On a fundamental level most leaders – because there are always outliers – share a common set of leadership skills and traits. Most of these are generally agreed upon by the vast majority of employees and leaders alike. In the very best of leaders, we innately expect them to exude strong communications skills, accountability for themselves and their teams, compassion and creativity, to name a few. Yet even with those expectations, not all leaders perform well, and there’s still a debate over what separates good leaders, from great leaders.
We believe there are a few qualities that are often overlooked but can bring individuals closer to consistently being seen as a great leader.
Demonstrate authority without being authoritative
This involves striking a delicate balance. As a leader, you need to be able to guide your team, to set boundaries and to define expectations, but there is a fine line between having authority and abusing that authority. When a leader’s control limits creativity or stifles individual contributions, a ripple effect of damages is triggered.
Why? Because that control tarnishes the respect and trust that is necessary to achieve great work. Individuals working under a leader’s microscope are less likely to feel engaged and are more hesitant to share ideas or take risks in their own work. Your team will respect and listen to you more when you set expectations, ask for their input and then give them the space to meet those expectations.
Connect with people, not just the work
As a leader, it is beneficial to you and those who work with you – and yes, we do mean with, not for – that you work to understand who they are on an individual level. What are their strengths, weaknesses, personal interests or career aspirations? Knowing what drives and motivates an individual matters.
It’s not enough to just know those things, great leaders take it a step further. They invest in and connect with employees on a personal level. That doesn’t mean having to spend large amounts of time outside of work together, but it does mean pressing pause on work-related conversations at times and connecting on matters other than the projects underway. Connecting on a personal level may seem impossible for leaders of large organizations, but it’s not. Middle-level managers can do this work with their teams, and in large companies, senior leaders can host monthly coffees with small groups of employees. These events aren’t required for employees to attend, but it gives individuals a chance, if interested, to connect with leaders in ways that the typical work environment doesn’t allow for. Remember, employees are more invested in and connected to an organization when they are connected to the people who lead that organization.
Model your expectations
If you believe your team should continue learning, then do so yourself. If you want your employees to follow a certain process for reporting, then make sure you follow the same procedures. Demonstrating to your team that you hold yourself to the same standards you expect of them is powerful. That behavior demonstrates a level of equality, one that is hard to achieve when the titles of employee and employer are thrown into the mix.
Find space for innovation and entrepreneurship, for yourself and others
An entrepreneurial mindset is an important quality in business, but it doesn’t have to just live at the executive level of an organization. The very best of leaders create an environment for individual contributors to bring their own entrepreneurial spirit to the table.
What does that actually look like for an organization to have an entire team of entrepreneurial minds? It means that all employees, no matter their title, are empowered to think creatively, to be innovative in their role, to be curious about how to improve the company or better serve customers, and to take risks confidently. By leading in a way that encourages others to innovate, you create a workplace where employees see themselves as the entrepreneur of their own position. You create the space to allow individuals to dream big, to be responsible for themselves and to contribute to something more. With that environment, individuals and the company can reap major benefits.
By incorporating these qualities into your leadership style, you will be able to become a stronger leader yourself and develop the leadership talents of those on your teams. It’s not easy and it takes purposeful work to enact these changes, but these traits are necessary to move from good to great.