Is a good leader born or can they be made? I have thought about leadership for many years after being exposed to widely divergent levels of leadership competence from various bosses in the corporate world. In large corporations, certain levels of management seem to be promoted into leadership positions by virtue of seniority alone but without any real thought or testament to their leadership ability. Entrepreneurs in start-ups may be very good at their business idea and sales but not necessarily good at managing people once their start-up begins to grow.
Not everyone is a natural leader and a bad leader can have devastating impact on their team with research showing a bad leader can affect disengagement and low levels of performance. A poor leader can also cost the business indirectly through high turnover, recruiting and training costs of employees. They say that people don’t leave bad jobs but bad bosses. If you read through articles on good leadership there does seem to be some consensus on the qualities that have been identified as essential for a good leader. The real question is whether these are qualities that are innate or can they be developed.
It is very hard to be deferential and trust a leader who do not act with integrity. Integrity is a strong connection between words and actions. It’s being honest and ethical. It’s about sticking to your core values and principles. It sets the example for subordinates and also builds trust.
A good leader needs to be able to collaborate with others in other teams outside of their organisation, other teams in their organisation, other leaders and within their own team. They need to teach proper teamwork to their team so that people can focus more on their expertise and strengths, while collaborating with others to increase overall productivity.
A good leader needs to be able to know when and how to delegate to subordinates but also when and how to supervise. The worst kind of boss micromanages every single thing their subordinate does. It does not give subordinates the space to learn and grow on their own. They need the room to make some mistakes but it still need to be supervised because the mistakes should not come at a significant cost to the organisation. Ideally a leader should be able to supervise their subordinates less and less allowing the leader to focus on big picture issues.
Not all of those in management are good teachers and know how to train and develop their subordinates. They think it’s sufficient if they send their subordinates on training courses and take them to meetings. But a leader should be able to train the subordinate up to do the work that they do so that the leader can focus on more important matters. Initially it will be an investment in time but should soon save the leader a lot of time in the long run when they can delegate the work to the subordinate who has been trained up properly.
A good leader should be able to approached by his or her subordinates. The subordinates should be able to voice any concerns and complaints so that it is dealt with swiftly and effectively. But more importantly, the subordinates should also be able to report any mistakes that were made knowing that the leader will deal with them fairly. It’s incredibly dangerous in an organisation when subordinates are too terrified of leadership to reveal mistakes and instead go to extensive lengths to hide them.
If you cannot motivate your staff you cannot get them to work hard for you. This is usually done by the example that a leader sets in commitment and passion. The staff spend most of their day working for you and they need more than their salary to work their best. If you lead them by the fear of being fired then it’s also unlikely that you will get the best performance from them.
A leader needs to have the self confidence in their own ability to not feel threatened by a bright and competent subordinate. Instead a successful and empowered subordinate should only be seen as confirmation of their leadership ability and not a threat to their position.
They also need to have the confidence to not have to take credit for every good work product from their team and again see it as a sign of confirmation of their leadership ability. And most importantly a good leader should be confident in his or her decision-making ability to be able to make the big decisions that will impact their business or team.
A good leader is able to effectively communicate with others what they want and give constructive feedback so that their employees know what to do. If a leader has poor communication skills then they will be unable to delegate with clear and proper instructions. A good leader also has to be able to communicate their vision and strategy for the organisation to ensure that it is easier for the subordinates to understand what goal they are working towards and buy-in the ethos of the team and organisation.
A good leader is able to take a little more than his or her share of the blame and a little less than his or her share of the credit. But each of the subordinates needs to be held accountable for their actions with praise when they do something good. And the leader knows that as the leader the buck stops with them for any mistakes that the team or organisation makes.
A good leader needs to ensure they show their subordinates empathy to develop a closer connection with subordinates. This is about not treating people like robots but like the human beings that they are. People spend a lot of their lives at work and their employees need to know that they are also seen and respected for their humanness.
On a review of these leadership qualities, a lot of them are personality traits and are either inherent in individuals or not. I think it is very difficult to train some-one who does not have these qualities to suddenly develop them. I have had some amazing bosses who helped me develop and grown but also some devastating ones who made me cry almost every day after work and knocked my self-confidence. Because of my experiences with the devastating ones, I really think we need to rethink the role of management more carefully.
It is critical for a business or organisation of any size to identify and make good leadership choices or be prepared to spend time and money on training those who do not have natural leadership abilities.