According to Gallup polls, at least half of American workers leave their jobs due to poor leadership from managers. This remarkable statistic illustrates the importance of being a great leader. Great leaders support productivity in the workplace and serve as a role model for our employees to achieve success. True leaders are essential to achieving outstanding results and pushing innovation forward. However, there are some characteristics of great leaders that set them apart from the rest. Here are some unique and surprising traits great leaders have that we can apply in our journey to reach leadership excellence:
Listeners say great things
When we listen to the issues of our customers or team, we can better understand their needs. Listening before we speak also helps us to think about what we say before we say it. True leaders say great things because they listen first, and listen more than they talk. Although it’s important to express your thoughts and “speak your mind,” it’s even more important to listen. When we listen to others, we can develop and cultivate relationships. Listening is how we also learn from different perspectives and gain insight on how to approach various challenges we face in business and beyond.
If you want to be a good listener, it’s important not to judge your team. When we judge and criticize, we don’t listen to our employees’ concerns. We have to be active listeners and be aware of body language as well as verbal and non-verbal communication. Listening effectively also calls for practicing empathy towards others and expressing to our workers that we feel their pain. We have to demonstrate that we care and recognize that employees are people with limitations. We should ask our workers for their perspectives on situations and share what we think and be more engaged, too.
Make time to reflect
Listening is crucial to great leadership, but a great leader also follows up by taking time to think. This can mean etching out 30 minutes in between meetings to reflect on the issues our lead developers expressed during a design sprint. It can also mean taking two minutes in the early morning hours to reflect on the conversations we have during one-on-one meetings we have the day before. So, it’s essential to reflect on what we learn from the conversation. Reflection is critical to making the best decisions.
Collaborate, don’t dominate
A common misconception that leaders often have is that domination is the same thing as leading. But great leaders aren’t focused on dominating the conversation or taking over a project. Instead, they abandon the “me-centric” attitude and collaborate with the team. True leaders adopt a mindset that’s centered on the team and empower their followers by working together.
When we collaborate, we can get work done faster. That’s because collaboration fosters ideation. When we collaborate, we can bounce ideas off of one another and can discover new ways to solve problems. By being transparent, leaders work with their teams to amplify progress.
We can achieve collaboration by discarding the “silo” mentality of not sharing information. This mentality only thwarts progress and innovation by hampering productivity and cooperation. It’s also crucial to share the vision and purpose of our organizations with the team so that everyone is on the same page and is involved in the creation process. This strategy serves as a motivator for employees to see the vision through since they are part of the vision’s creation. It’s also important to foster a collaborative environment by sharing information on an ongoing basis to build trust with the team.
Become a servant, not a star
Great leaders aren’t concerned about being the “star” of the show or pursuing their agenda. Instead, they look to serve those around them and value each worker’s input. That means empowering our employees through leadership development to become decision-makers and leaders themselves. It may also mean giving, for example, customer service representatives the power to decide on the best solution to resolve customer complaints. It can also mean forgoing giving orders to our employees to complete a project or task. Instead, we can encourage them to collaborate with us.
Serving our employees may also mean providing them with the one-on-one coaching sessions that give them time to discuss the struggles they may have achieving their goals on the job and providing valuable feedback to help them progress. When we serve our workers and help them solve their problems, we can elevate our team.
Slow to teach, quick to learn
True leaders understand that they don’t know everything. There’s always room to grow and learn from others. It’s important to embrace a continual, self-motivated learning approach if we want to evolve into great leaders.
Leaders who embrace excellence are quick to learn and take their time teaching. They’re learning how a business process works rather than immediately telling their employees what they should do.
World-class leaders are long-term learners who want to know more by engaging in question-and-answer sessions, listening to podcasts, reading, or relearning a skill we haven’t used for a while. When we lose our urge to learn, we stop evolving as leaders. So, it’s important to accelerate our learning and pump the breaks on teaching workers what to do when we lack sufficient information. Know what needs to be done first before you instruct your team and embrace learning.
Bringing it all together
Being a great leader calls for more than just directing your team. Leaders who are genuinely great support their workers, listening to their concerns and ideas, embracing collaboration and engaging in ongoing learning. If you want to develop your leadership skills and behaviors, choose substance over status, and you’ll be on your way to being a great leader.
Cassidy Jakovickas, CPA, is president and CEO of MBS Accountancy Corp. in Downtown Fresno.