Great Leadership is a cliched phrase today. Managers keep harping on why it is essential that we grow out of being good managers and become Great Leaders.
During my career spanning 26 years, I have had the good fortune of working with and observing some of my senior managers and leaders. These individuals have shaped my perception of what a good leader is and more importantly, how he interacts with his teams or people at work. What signals does she emanate to her team? How does he respond and react to a subordinate’s request?
I would like to call out some of the traits that I consider as being vital towards great Leadership. These are qualities which I greatly admire and have experienced first hand from my bosses.
# 1 A great Leader shows respect
This is the single, most vital characteristic of senior leadership that has shone through in my dealings with some of my senior colleagues. A good leader respects you, regardless of the seniority of his or her position and your standing in the organisation. Or rather, the leader goes out of his way to make sure that he interacts with you in a way that makes you feel respected.
If you were to meet your senior leader in a hallway, she would acknowledge your presence with a cheerful hello and a smile. This would make you feel good, that you are a part of the organisation and that the leader knows you and respects you. This can be done even if the leader does not know you personally. After all, when the layers of corporate culture are stripped away, are we not at a fundamental level – all human beings? And do we not as humans, crave mutual respect?
#2 Politeness is his forte
Another singular trait that seems very old school in today’s super connected, real time world is the habit of being polite. But is being polite mutually exclusive with being a great leader? I believe that the opposite is true and essential. How can someone who is impolite and rude be recognised as a great leader? A true leader recognises that politeness is acknowledging the human being facing you in the one on one meeting. She understands that politeness costs nothing, yet it is the hallmark of an evolved leader.
A polite leader is one who would speak to you in a professional yet gentle manner. She would enquire about your well being and be genuinely interested in you. A leader who is polite is acknowledging your presence again at a fundamental level – you as a person and an individual and not concerned whether you are a General Manager or a peon.
Politeness also extends to the simple courtesy of acknowledging emails and phone calls. A senior leader who responds promptly to an email enquiry, that you sent out with butterflies in your stomach, is displaying a keen sense of politeness and empathy. Responding to the electronic communication is again not mandatory but shows maturity and class from a senior leader whose behaviour is often looked upon as an example to be followed.
# 3 Positivity is the hallmark of a great leader
A true leader exudes positive vibes. I am not referring to global icons, whose behaviour and mannerisms are already in the public domain, but to the few shining examples that I have been fortunate enough to interact with, in my career.
A good leader is one who has a positive outlook towards life and the workspace. For him nothing is too depressing or unworkable. As managers, we often tend to look at the gloomy side of things, at the constraints that we face and the challenges that loom like huge boulders on a turbulent sea shore. The leader remains cheerful in the face of all challenges and his optimism and energy rub off on you. He remains energetic and active and you soon realise that things can’t be all that bad and that the rough spots would even out soon.
# 4 True Leaders are responsive
A truly effective leader is responsive to your needs. This applies to her behaviour at the minutest level. From responding to a text message that you send to picking up that phone call, a good leader acknowledges your request and reverts, even if it’s to tell you that she is busy for the day and will call back later in the evening.
Being responsive as a leader is further accentuated when the leader hears your proposal and agrees with the same, even if it disrupts the organisation flow in the short term. I remember my enthusiasm, when having secured migration rights to Canada, I was all charged up and met with my Operations Head to ask for extended leave. He didn’t have to agree to that and in fact could have denied my request at face value, since this would have caused the company short term inconvenience to him and his managers. Rather, he adopted a very responsive and flexible stand and allowed me to explore the new frontiers that were open to me at that time in my life.
#5 A great leader is constantly sharing her life lessons
An astute leader is one who is well versed with coaching her team members. A team is an assortment of individuals and as such they all come from varied backgrounds and with a rainbow of differences in opinion and approach. A good leader understands this and engages in coaching his team on an individual, one on one basis. A person in need of direction in his career or a young lady looking to tie the knot while at the ascendant in her profession, both call for a high degree of empathy and an underlying approach of coaching from the boss.
A true leader is one who readily dispenses with his or her wisdom and guides the team member to taking an informed decision.
In conclusion, the litmus test of a true leader is not that she commands respect or is the most competent person in the organisation. Rather, a strong and effective leader is one who is respectful of his team members and is polite and responsive to the varied needs of his team members.
A true leader strives to maintain a personal connect with each individual, and in doing so reinforces the basic truth that we are all flawed human beings, striving to make a living. She is also keenly appreciative of the fact that all individuals seek mutual respect, recognition and understanding while growing in their careers just as much as they need these in their personal lives.
It is in imbibing and practicing these traits that we too can hone our people skills and aim to become competent leaders.