Good leaders are not born, but there are ways for leaders to improve their leadership. The following are to competencies make up good leadership:
Good leaders create a vision, a picture of the future, of where they want to take their organizations. Leaders can improve both the quality and acceptance of the vision by partnering with their peers, executive team, key employees throughout the organization or outside consultants. To get the best vision you need lots of ideas, and people support what they help to create.
Once a vision is established, great leaders can inspire everyone in the company to get onboard. Employees in great organizations are passionate about what they do. This inspiration extends to customers, investors, suppliers, boards of directors and all other stakeholders.
This doesn’t mean good leaders have to be charismatic or great public speakers, though some are. Leaders may inspire by example or in low-key ways. Every word and action demonstrates their passion for the vision.
Strategic leaders are clear and directly face the strengths and weaknesses of their own organizations, as well as their external opportunities and threats. They think in terms of leverage, fishing where the big fish are and partnering to gain market advantage. While interested in one sale, they would rather create pipelines and strategic alliances that generate thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of sales.
Wired like businesspeople, good leaders are bottom-line oriented and extraordinarily committed to results. They thrive on facts, figures, numbers and data. They’re interested in ROI, ROE and EBIDTA. If not numbers-oriented themselves, they surround themselves with strong financial talent.
Once vision and mission (a brief, clear statement of the reasons for an organization’s existence) are established, good leaders achieve what they set out to do before launching new initiatives. By contrast, poor leaders may have dozens of conflicting programs and priorities. Leaders with 20 priorities essentially have no priorities.
Not necessarily salespeople, good leaders can bring others to their point of view using logic, reason, emotion and the force of their personalities. They motivate by persuasion rather than intimidation. The key here is the leader speaking from his or her heart.
Good leaders are people-centric. They may be scientists, engineers or technical experts by background, but they recognize interpersonal skills are paramount. They display high degrees of emotional intelligence, and thrive on finesse and likeability.
They want to be liked — and they are. Again, the key is what’s inside the leader. Likeability comes from the inside out.
Sometimes shooting from the hip, good leaders can make decisions quickly — often with incomplete data. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Rarely is a leader able to get 100 percent of the information needed for a decision. Typically it is “60 percent and go” or “80 percent and go.”
Good leaders are direct and straightforward. They set clear performance expectations and hold people accountable. This requires being direct and truthful, which can be difficult but — more often than not — is natural for the principle-based leader. Good leaders know it’s hard to beat the truth.
- Open to feedback.
Good leaders are open and dedicated to lifelong learning. They seek feedback about their performance through direct conversations and objective tools such as 360-degree reviews. Seeking continuous improvement in their companies, they also seek it for themselves.
After reviewing these criteria, you may still have the age-old question: Can leadership really be learned or are good leaders just born?
Denver leadership expert Jim Downey comes down on the side that good leaders can be developed. “Good leaders develop by practicing the right behaviors,” he says. “It is like golf. You can spend hours on the driving range, but if you are not practicing the right fundamentals, you will never be a good golfer. By practicing the 10 core competencies of good leaders, you can improve your leadership skills.
“You will also be modeling the right behaviors [fundamentals] for others, who watch their leaders surprisingly closely. You may end up an organization full of leaders with surprising success.”
William S. Frank is president/CEO of CareerLab, a career strategy and leadership consulting firm based in Denver.