For a long time people have told me they thought I was a really good leader. I accepted that graciously but frankly I never sat down and really analyzed what I was doing. Like many entrepreneurs, I do things by gut instinct- hire people, make capital buying decisions, try new product introductions and much more. That does not mean that I am reckless. I conduct the research and consult experts however much of what I do as the leader of my company I do because it feels right. All of this worked well for me until I was trying to help others in my organization develop their leadership skills. That’s when I had to go back and think about what I believe makes a really good leader. Here are a few thoughts.
Leaders have style and substance. Substance is measurable and good leaders really mobilize people to reach very clear and identifiable goals and outcomes. Style is important but it can’t take center stage.
Leaders are visionary. You have to see things that others don’t. You dream about things that may not appear to be doable. Then you find a way to do it. You must also be able to clearly communicate that vision to others. The best leaders can take the most complex or difficult situations and make then understandable.
Leaders experiment. They try things rather than do the same old, same old. I have tried many things over the history of the company. Some were successful others were not. Do I think I am a bad leader because of these failures? Actually, I think I am a better leader because the experience has taught me what not to do. That is even better than having success but not understanding why something worked.
Leaders are focused on employees. Some leaders spend lots of time with customers and other stakeholders but don’t give as much time to employees. I think that is a mistake. I try to really understand what employees need to grow, as well as create opportunities for them to be successful.
Leaders have a heart and empathy for others around them. So often I have heard business owners say to keep it professional and stay away from personal subjects. When employees come to work they don’t check their emotions at the door. Neither should their leader. Being human and showing appropriate emotion shows others you care for them. Do that and your employees will follow you anywhere and everywhere.
There are lots of books about leadership and plenty of gurus but I believe that leadership is very personal and you have to find what works for you. We can debate if leadership is an art or a science. We can question if leaders are born or made. We can discuss the relationship between substance and style. One thing you can’t argue- when you see a real leader you know it by their actions. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best…”One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words. It is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” As leaders we have the responsibility to make good choices.