I’ve acknowledged that people can certainly be highly productive and successful without a full portfolio of leadership qualities, and I’ve also asserted that many effective leaders are not born, but self-made through study, effort, and self-examination.
I’ve got more to say this topic, too, so let’s take another brief dive now into what makes for an effective leader, and how you can step-up your leadership game:
For a great many projects, tasks, and goals, you’ll need the coordinated help of others to get where you’re going. This leads to an important two-fold responsibility of any effective leader:
First, the leader must mold a team capable of completing the task, project, or goal. In situations where a team is already in place, from time to time the leader may need to add or subtract some people to reflect changing requirements and situations, to eliminate problems within the team, or to improve capabilities.
In a startup situation – whether it’s a newly minted project or a whole company – putting together a successful team entails both finding and bringing on board a mix of people with the right skills, talents, knowledge, and experience.
There’s also a personality component to be considered.
The leader must encourage members of the team to respect, communicate, and work together with minimal conflict and problems, perhaps even with a level of synergy that makes everyone’s contribution bigger, better, and more useful.
Second, the leader must energize this team by creating and sustaining a culture of commitment and caring that extracts maximum contributions from everyone involved.
Here’s an illustrative story of such a culture: a high-ranking official visiting NASA during its famous Apollo mission days stopped a busy janitor to ask: “What’s your role here?” Reportedly, the janitor proudly replied: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”
Effective leaders prioritize setting this kind of high-energy, collaborative tone, striving to produce a culture of commitment and caring with high-minded incentives and directives, as well as by showcasing their own behavior:
- Working hard and making sacrifices,
- Showing appreciation when others do the same,
- Sharing their strengths and struggles with members of the team, and
- Caring about others through heartfelt interest and appropriate interpersonal support.
There are many ways to bring a team and/or organization from Point A to Point B. One of the central roles of an effective leader is to identify the preferred pathway and keep everyone moving along that track.
But this doesn’t require leaders to become soaring visionaries. A pedestrian plan, properly executed, can yield extraordinary results.
To paraphrase what many executives preached at IBM during its heyday: it’s less important to make the right decision than it is to make your decision come out right.
To this end, leaders have another two-fold responsibility:
First, to make a sensible, plausible choice among many available strategic options, and to keep the team focused on implementing that strategy: identifying priorities and side-stepping as many distractions as possible.
Second, to monitor progress along that strategic path, identifying obstacles and pitfalls as early as possible, then leading the team around them and onward as directly as possible toward the desired outcome.
Two ways you can learn to do this better are: 1) by cultivating your decision-making skills and 2) by listening carefully to others involved in your tasks, projects, and goals as they discuss progress and problems with you.
It’s natural for most people in an organization to keep their heads down, focused on their most immediate tasks, projects, and goals. Like the men and women pulling on the oars in a boat, they are properly focused inward, making sure they provide maximum energy and drive. They count on others to set the best course and do the steering.
That’s where leadership comes in.
Effective leaders look outward at the bigger picture: determining how their team’s environment is likely to change, balancing risks against potential rewards, and greasing the wheels of collaboration so as to facilitate the smooth functioning of the team and all of its members.
Many times, these responsibilities entail:
- Having difficult conversations,
- Confronting intransigent forces,
- Choosing hard roads over easy ones, when necessary,
- Stretching for difficult targets instead of picking low hanging fruit,
- Admitting both personal and professional errors of judgment, and
- Accepting accountability for the team’s individual and overall results.
In doing all this, effective leaders offer thoughtful reasons for their choices and actions, exhibit courage in difficult times, and lend their hands not only to the practical but to the emotional considerations involved in driving the team forward.
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