Last Word: The Keys To Becoming A Great Leader

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In searching for key skills and characteristics of leaders you will find lists from various sources with descriptors of what makes a great leader.  Many of those skills and traits will be the same from source to source.  Mastering those skills and adopting those characteristics will certainly improve your leadership capability and, no doubt, provide value to you and those you lead.  While I agree with those skills and characteristics, I’ve also learned over the years that there are other keys to being a great leader that are sometimes overlooked.  

The simple fact is, being a great leader is hard.  It’s something you learn, not just from professional development, but from real life trial and error.  Being a great leader isn’t as simple as getting up today and being great.  Like every other aspect of life, being a leader is about personal growth.  It’s about finding your strengths and weaknesses and building upon them.  It’s about understanding yourself and using your emotional intelligence to understand those around you.  It’s also about understanding that the most important person on your team is not you, but the team members you surround yourself with.  

One characteristic displayed by great leaders is courage.  Courage can be defined in a number of ways.  The best definition relating to leadership is that courage is the choice and willingness to confront uncertainty.  It also ties into the concept of always doing the right thing.  Leadership does not come with a guarantee that you will be successful.  It also doesn’t come with a guarantee that your organization and your team will thrive.  A great leader must be there every day for the organization and all that are part of it.  It takes courage to stand before a group of team members and give them honest, authentic and transparent feedback on the organization’s and their own performance.  It’s easy to be a leader when everything is going well.  It takes courage to be the leader when things are not going well.  When you have to tell someone they don’t fit and may be better off somewhere else.  When the business is not performing well and changes need to be made regardless of whether it’s personnel changes or strategic changes.  

Trust is the belief that someone can be relied on to do what they say they will do, to believe that someone will always do the right thing – not what you might want them to do but what is right for the organization.  Trust is critical for collaboration and is a core tenant of cooperation.  Without trust organizations fail to function effectively.  Trust, like courage, is personal.  It’s demonstrating that you are there for everyone, not just the select few.  Unlike courage, trust is earned.  Most individuals will give a leader the benefit of the doubt or trust by default.  The best way to ensure that the trust given is retained and flourishes is through open and honest communication, sharing your vulnerability and making sure you do what you say you will.  If for some reason, as a leader, you can’t do what you say, it is best to communicate that you can’t as soon as possible. If lost, trust can be rebuilt but it takes a great deal of effort.  

Going hand in hand with trust is respect.  It is important that leaders show respect for all within their organizations and remember it is the employees who ultimately deliver your products and services.  You may map out the direction and strategy, but it is the responsibility of the rest of the organization to deliver.  As part of that respect, leaders should openly and consistently celebrate successes and make a point to publicly and privately acknowledge above-and-beyond performance.  

In the end, whether we are talking about courage, trust, or another leadership characteristic, great leaders must persevere.  They must have the internal strength to keep steering the bus in all types of traffic.  Being a leader doesn’t end with the weekend but only moves to the next day.  A great leader must find that balance that feeds their commitment to build their organization and to help their employees and team members optimize their potential. Be courageous and trust yourself and those around you. 

Bob Cody, executive director of Leadership Cape Cod, brings over 25 years of leadership experience in corporate, academic and nonprofit organizations. He is Chief Executive Partner of Innoreate, a business consulting firm, and was a member of the Cape Leadership Institute class of 2012. He serves as a member of the Board of Directors of CLI, Open Cape, Cape Cod Technology Council and the Greater Hyannis Chamber of Commerce, where he is the incoming Board Chair.