To be an effective leader demands specific repeatable skills, certain inherent traits and the lessons of experience.
Great leadership starts with a clear view of the most important goals you need to achieve, and the ability to communicate (or “share” them) in the most simple, concise and compelling ways possible. Everyone who touches a great leader (however peripherally) is always left with no doubt as to what must be achieved. Some call this a single-minded focus, or laser focus; it is not! What it is in fact, is the most critical element of true leadership, honest and certain communication.
The actions of the greatest leaders are entirely predictable (or at least not a surprise) to their teams, as they are in support of the known goals. They are in effect an open book to those they lead, and this means that the lieutenants, captains and other ranks they lead can predict and become extensions of the actions of the leader. One person cannot do everything, but they can extend themselves through great teams. Great leaders mentor and measure, and are ready to act if they see anyone moving off course, but they are just steering, not performing the functions of every part of the machine of business directly themselves.
Many great leaders do change their minds (as everyone should have the strength to do when new information dictates that change is the right course), but whatever change they are leading is clear to everyone they touch. Great leaders don’t hide information, they are not paranoid, instead they know that success in leadership comes from everyone in the team deeply understanding what has to be built, and everyone knowing how truly hard it will be, and committing to doing whatever they can to achieve success and the common goals.
Great leaders don’t hide behind “need-to-know” compartmentalizm because without full knowledge of what has to be achieved, members of the team who are tasked with achieving it, cannot make the kind of leaps of ingenuity demanded to accelerate innovation (because they essentially would have blinders on).
Active leadership is also about creating an environment where it is safe to share openly. Of course there are limits to how large that open team should become, as sharing your vision and ideas increases the risk that the information could get to those who would copy you, namely your competition. Secrecy has its place, but it must be kept at the outside edge of the team, which for a true leader is comprised of people who can be trusted.
Of course the level of trust required by a leader with the team of those she or he shares his vision with, must be built over time. Great leaders have the inherent skill of identifying those they can trust quickly and accurately, and of course experience helps in identifying those types of people. Once your trusted team is identified you should take the time to give them the deepest understanding of your vision, and then empower them to make decisions in support of that vision. It is absolutely critical to then support their actions, even if you would have done things differently. As long as they’ve acted ethically and in support in the vision and goals, you need to “have their backs” when make decisions.
Trust, Empowerment and Support and the three pillars upon which great leaders build.
When I hear that team members worry about morale, I recognize this as a weakness of my leadership, one I act to resolve immediately. The passion that drives a business must be shared by those who are tasked with delivering success. Most of the time morale issues are not related to financial compensation or even title or workload, but with confidence in the business plan and the team’s shared vision of how it will be successfully executed. When people are fully committed to a plan, they are motivated. Everyone wants to succeed, but a view of what that success will look and feel like, has to be imagined and envisioned by those involved in achieving it.
Great leaders create a common vision and a contagious passion to achieve as a team. They effortlessly provide an environment of trust, support and empowerment so as to deserve the commitment they desire.
Whether you’ve worked under “leaders” like this or not, it’s now on you to be the active leader your team needs.