What comes to mind when the word ‘leaders’ is mentioned?
Does a picture of Steve Jobs in his unvarying signature black mock turtleneck and blue jeans come to mind?
Does it conjure an earnest image of Mahatma Gandhi striding confidently with his walking stick in hand?
Maybe Alexander the Great of Macedon who conquered naught but all the world with his courage and excellent skill in commanding his army?
These men may come from contrasting backgrounds, but they all have a singular personality trait in common; that of leadership. They rallied the masses with their charisma and gravitas. All of them were visionaries. Oriented towards achieving whatever it is they set out to do with unwavering focus.
Such are the skills we must discuss today. What makes leaders into what they are? Can we break down these traits into precise, learnable actions that we can follow and inculcate? Can business leaders of today emulate these figures of the past and excel in their ventures? Let us explore.
Traits of Leaders
The intention of this article is to deconstruct the persona of a successful leader into its constituent psychosocial elements. Every leader follows a particular code, a credo that they live by, a set of principles guide them, and a strong moral fiber motivates them. These qualities are personified by their gravitas and appeals to people that surround them, follow them and look up to them in times in times of uncertainty.
Let us discuss four such characteristics of a leaders’ personality that stand out the most and are prerequisites for any and all ambitious individuals, aspiring to lead and influence people.
- Goal Oriented
Just like the sails of a ship, harness the winds to guide the ship towards it destination, having a goal gives life direction. It gives one’s existence a purpose. Similarly, all business leaders must have clear and practical targets. It gives them a sense of purpose, provides clarity and confidence to all those who follow the leader.
Imagine yourself as a marathon runner, launching from the start line, without a destination or finish point in mind. It would be quite exhaustive, I assure you.
Any business leader must define specific goals for the organization they are leading. These will bear upon the vision of the organization and lay groundwork for all future operations. The goals should reflect the ideology and methodology that the team follows and aims to execute respectively.
- When Martin Luther King started his crusade against racism and discrimination against African-Americans, he had a vision. He wanted to see all his countrymen being treated respectfully and equally, regardless of the color of their skin. With this idea in mind, he planned his civil rights movement accordingly.
- His movement was completely non-violent, which was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s disobedience and non-cooperation movement of India.
- Having a clear vision helped him shape this revolution which changed the face of his country forever. Had he not have had such a goal in mind, hardly would the people stand behind him.
Even though it may sound daunting to have a singular and unified goal to pursue, it is nearly not as difficult to put it in practice. This is how I set goals as an entrepreneur:
- Analyze your company and picture where you would want it to be in the future. Set objectives for marketing and measure the results in the long term.
- Determine the fiduciary responsibilities and business goals to be achieved. Break these down into short term and long term goals with a stipulated time frame.
- Orient all your business processes and operations by these goals. Keep reviewing them from time to time, replacing the ones achieved with newer ones.
- Trust Building
What? – No organization can succeed without trust as one of its core values. Trust in its competence, confidence among its employees, trust that the management has in the workforce, the trust of the customers on the organization’s products/ services. The whole system is built on trust. Trust keeps everyday life in motion.
Every time you pay a shopkeeper before he hands you your purchase, you display trust. When people go out and vote for politicians, they trust them to run the country to the best of their ability.
Why? – Trust has to start from the top and work its way to the bottom. If a leader fails to trust his management and the management doesn’t trust the employees; there is no atmosphere of mutual dependence, and it will be impossible to run a company. Trust is paramount to the smooth functioning of an organization.
- A private sector bank which was recently going through a bad patch rebuked an executive level manager on account of not achieving targets.
- The fact that performance was falling not on account of mismanagement of an executive, but due to the centralized decision-making process that does not allow for swift decisions to be taken, by mid-level managers
- The disgruntled employee left the company and took quite a few employees with him. Trust was absent.
Trust building exercises may be organized amongst employee as well as the leadership team. This helps in team building and increasing social interactions amongst employees.
- The leader need not ‘micromanage’ everything when he can delegate responsibilities to others.
- One such team and trust/ rapport building exercise are known as the ‘Trust Fall’, is symbolic about trust.
- Nurtures Talent
Every business leader at one point of time or another acquires other people to work with/ for him. Such talent acquisition is essential for the growth and expansion of the organization. Being talented people, they have an eye for recognizing, developing and utilizing talent in others as well.
Appreciating and nurturing talent whether it is the employees or the freelance professionals, will take any leader a long way. It will develop a bond of mutual trust and appreciation amongst the employer and the employee. It also reflects on the quality of human resource that an organization can boast.
Leaders acknowledge the fact that developing talent in others benefits their business. By leveraging those skills, they can build a stronger company.
It is impossible for a leader to execute all essential functions of a business and therefore he must have subordinates who he can depend on. By nurturing such talent, the leader also makes sure that they remain loyal to the organization and perform in its best interests.
Human Resource is perhaps the most vital resource of any organization.
- Recruitment must be conducted by meritocracy.
- All employees must be compensated fairly for their contributions towards the team.
- They must be treated with respect and a feeling of trust and confidence in their capabilities. This will further motivate them to perform for the company.
- Incentives, rewards, and promotions must be doled out to deserving candidates.
- Employee personality development programs and performance improvement seminars must be conducted to keep the workforce agile and relevant.
- A loyal and efficient workforce is the best asset for any company and will follow the leader even through the darkest times.
- Balancing Act
A leader takes over multiple roles in the organization. He is an innovator, a change-bringer, growth catalyst, an overseer, the face of the company and also a passionate individual with a dream to fulfill.
It can be overwhelming at most times, the sheer pressure that builds up on a single person taking over so many responsibilities. Not to forget a leader must also juggle his personal life in addition to his professional one.
Thus, all leaders must possess a degree of calm and patience within them. Without this, one would be sure to unravel under such enormous strain.
Take the case of former President Barack Obama, President of the United States of America; the single most powerful office in the world. It is perhaps the most difficult and demanding position, to be the leader of the free world.
- Winning an election against all the odds, President Obama came to power as a symbol of hope and change. A family man with a wife and two daughters, the pressure on him to perform, as the first president of Afro-American descent, was unbelievable.
- To the surprise of a nation, President Obama carried out his duties as chief of staff with great diligence and panache.
- Not only did he serve the country faithfully, but he was also re-elected by the people, owing to his performance that spoke for itself.
- Being President did not mean he shied away from commitments towards his family. On the contrary, his family was extremely supportive of him, and on many occasions, they were seen participating with him while he carried out his duties.
Such is the balancing act that a leader must endeavor to accomplish. Much like the conductor of a music orchestra, a leader must subtly yet firmly assert oneself in the business. He must direct and lead by example, because good leaders don’t tell you how it’s done, they show you how it’s done.
Being a leader is not about hierarchy or titles. It is about empowering others and turning vision into reality. In conclusion a beautiful Chinese proverb comes to mind-
‘Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.’