What defines a great leader? There’s a thousand different ways to answer this question and honestly, there’s no right or wrong answer. The response depends on our experiences with various leaders and what we define as a great leader. If a person or experience comes to mind, it’s not a very difficult question to answer. But, what if someone asked, “what makes YOU a great leader?” The question can become more uncomfortable and less obvious when the focus is on yourself.
It’s easy to answer the question, “What does a bad or ineffective leader look like?” In fact, we can answer this question without putting too much thought into it. But, it’s not enough to simply know the differences between a good and bad leader. It’s about taking the steps to reflect on your own leadership style and understanding how it affects you and those being led by you. It’s about personalizing the term good leader or great leader. Consider this point as you read through the common thoughts about what it means to be a leader below.
Leadership is NOT about power
While being in a leadership position comes with ‘power’ (to an extent), it should not be the main focus. When we say power in this case, we mean the ability to have authority over others, have the final say in most decisions and overwrite all other opinions. Power in leadership is important and necessary. This comes more in the form of the power to influence versus the authoritative power mentioned above. As a leader, people look up to you, they watch you and they are affected by you in some way or another. Building and earning trust with the people around you is far more effective than reminding others of the position you hold. It also allows people to feel as though they are working alongside you in a collaborative way, and not for you. Think about how you’re using your power as a leader. Are you using it to further your own agenda, only thinking about what works best for you? Or, are you helping motivate and increase the success of your team and organization as a whole? Use your power to lead growth and build trust for everyone involved. It sounds like a simple concept, but these behaviors shape the overall culture of your organization. Without them, there’s no real sense of leadership to begin with.
Ask yourself: What do my actions and behaviors say about how I use power?
Leadership is NOT about control
There’s a big difference between telling people what to do and inspiring them to act. Really, it’s the difference between being a boss and a leader. Think about a time you have tried to give your opinion or input in a situation but felt like it was disregarded or unimportant? That feeling you felt is the same way your team feels when it happens to them. Listening is a powerful thing, even if the idea sounds crazy from the start. All of this isn’t to say you shouldn’t share your opinion, but there is value in the right timing and delivery. If you’re always looking to control and micromanage each aspect of your team and the organization instead of taking the time to listen, analyze and then act, chances are it’ll create negative tensions that can be difficult to reverse. It’s ok to take a step back and observe sometimes. Focus on being a guide and a mentor where employees can feel like their decisions are important and valuable too. Plus, you’re developing your employees along the way. Another sign of a great leader.
Ask yourself: How often to you give feedback and how often do you ask for feedback?
Leadership is NOT about having all the answers
Being in the know can have its advantages, but nobody expects you to know it all. It can be easy to get comfortable with the idea that you may have the ultimate say in things, but the best leaders seek answers through collaboration with their teams. Similar to being in control, the best work doesn’t come from one conversation and one person. It comes from multiple people working collaboratively, especially if the decision affects the whole team. Not to mention open communication and collaboration allow employees to feel like they are heard (there’s that trust aspect again) and making an impact.
Ask yourself: Are people on the team afraid to speak up or do they share openly?
The one place you are always in control is defining your leadership style and the type of leader you want to become. While these last few months have taught us to really expect the unexpected, use this as an opportunity to turn the lens inward and develop yourself as a leader. What your team needs from you today is most likely different than what they needed from you six months ago. Building and gaining the trust of your team is one of the most important jobs you have as a leader. It’s what brings the organization together and keeps everyone motivated and inspired to create something bigger than themselves. Leadership is a journey that requires constant fixing and tweaking. Addressing different behaviors and actions when they occur is an important part of leadership development and it’s a great place to start.