It is often said that, in many cases, people don’t leave a job, they leave a boss. This in itself highlights the huge responsibility that comes along with being the leader of an organisation or team. Some might think that becoming a leader or manager is the end game, where all the hard work they’ve done pays off and they finally have other people to work for them. But in fact, as Simon Sinek aptly put it, a good leader is a person who works for the people and not vice versa.
So what actually makes a good leader? What are the attributes a leader should have which would make people want to follow them?
Starting off with a bit of a tricky one here as the worst leaders may also have plenty of this! The difference is that bad leaders show confidence in themselves and rarely take on anyone else’s opinion because they are confident that their way is the only right way – which turns their confidence into arrogance. On the other hand, good leaders show confidence not only in themselves but in their team. They believe in their team and support their decisions, even when they don’t yield the desired result. Good leaders are also confident enough to take risks and make snap decisions when necessary – this skill develops with experience too.
A leader that doesn’t have this attribute is hardly inspiring. A good leader must have the courage to do the right thing, even though it may make them unpopular. Their aim is not to be to be liked, but to earn respect. For this reason, honesty and integrity are essential, and values should never be compromised.
Not only must a good leader have passion and enthusiasm for what they do, but they must know how to transmit it to the rest of their team. How? By reminding the team why they work there and that they are part of something bigger, of an ideal. A leader will inspire the team by showing them how their work is relevant, of value and that it makes a difference. Sharing their vision with the rest of the team will incite motivation and productivity. Passion is contagious!
Ineffective leaders ultimately only think of how they can get the glory and of how they will shine. They are wary of encouraging their team to improve lest one of them should usurp their position and steal the limelight. Ironically, this kind of leadership is what leads to mediocrity. On the other hand, good leaders can see the potential in people and what they can become with the right guidance and support. They guide their team to develop their strengths, work on their weaknesses and to be the best version of themselves. They encourage their team to strive for excellence by pushing them beyond their comfort zone, thus raising the quality of their work and showing them that they can reach a level that not even the employees themselves thought possible.
A good leader knows that they don’t know everything… and have no issue owning this. They can accept when someone else’s ideas are better than theirs and are open to new ways of doing things. They believe that there’s always something to learn or that they can improve on – it’s the only way to keep moving forward with the times. In fact, they don’t see change as threat but rather, they encourage innovation and then learn to adapt to it.
Of course, effective leaders do not micro-manage. They give their team the opportunity to work autonomously but at the same time are there to offer support. Yes, even when their decision may not have the desired results. If an employee feels that they may get ‘punished’ for taking the wrong decision then eventually, they will just sit very comfortably inside their zone. They will not push boundaries. They will not take risks. And therein lies mediocrity…again. Yet allowing employees to work independently knowing that their leader has their back, will enable them to give the best they can give.
Nobody gets preferential treatment in a team led by a good leader… especially not the leader. They will get their hands dirty with the team – in fact, they are the first to do so and lead by example. If they are working to a tight deadline and need to stay late, the leader will be there too. Also, a fair leader will give credit to the team, and not be preoccupied about hogging the limelight.
The ability to see the bigger picture and not get stuck in the nitty-gritty details is an essential attribute of a great leader. They take decisions without bias and do not allow their personal beliefs to colour their judgement. An objective leader will solve issues fairly and based on facts and research, rather than personal opinion or hearsay. This attribute also means that they have a good eye for talent.
This is an obvious one. All the above is nothing if a leader has poor communication skills. And when we mention communication skills, it’s not just the gift of the gab but more importantly, the ability to actively listen, (which surprisingly few people have!). Only by listening can a leader really understand the team and their needs.
Trust is rewarded with loyalty
Besides the above, and especially because word travels fast in Malta, other people outside of the organisation will hear what a fantastic place the company is to work at. This will make the often difficult process of recruiting easier… and will attract top talent, as well as limit staff turnover. So undoubtedly, Simon Sinek was right in saying that a leader must work for the people because once they do that, it will be reciprocated tenfold.