The term “leadership” could bring to your mind several different images. You could think of a political leader pursuing a passionate cause or an executive leading their company to success. However, leadership has nothing to do with the hierarchy of the company or your seniority. Similarly, your titles have nothing to do with leadership. You could be a CEO or a CFO, and that still does not make you a leader. In fact, you don’t need a title to lead.
You also do not become a leader because of your personal attributes. Just because you are a charismatic individual, it does not automatically make you a leader. Also, leadership is not synonymous with management. You could have 50 people reporting to you, and that still does not make you a leader. At best it makes you a manager.
Managers manage things. Leaders lead!
There are people in leadership roles that inspire their TEAMs and then we have people in leadership roles that are incompetent and can’t lead a group of personnel. What sets apart good leaders from position fillers?
What makes a good leader?
Great leaders come in all shapes and sizes. However, there are a few qualities that are common to all good leaders.
A positive attitude
There have been several scientific studies that show the power of positive thinking. A good leader exhibits a positive attitude even when things aren’t going as expected. This helps to create a happy and relaxed atmosphere in the workplace.
Even during the worst situations, a great leader remains positive and looks for ways to motivate the TEAM to find solutions. Walt Disney was an American film producer, famous as the pioneer of cartoon films. Despite challenges and hardships, he always had a positive attitude and was on the lookout for new opportunities. In 1928, Charles Mintz, the film producer, wanted to reduce the payment for Disney’s Oswald series. Mintz even threatened to cut ties with Disney if he did not agree to the terms.
Disney decided to leave Oswald. But, do you know what he created next? Mickey Mouse!
When life presents you with difficult situations, you may not be able to win them all. But you can definitely learn, and move on.
You cannot become a good leader without confidence. However, there is no room for arrogance or self-satisfaction. People look up to great leaders for inspiration. They will not do that if they sense arrogance.
Confidence is a necessary leadership quality because people look to you on how to behave, especially in difficult situations. When a leader is calm and poised, it is likely that their TEAM will be too. Panic, and you will have alarm bells ringing for your TEAM too. Confidence does not come overnight, but working on your strengths and enhancing your skills helps boost confidence gradually.
Ability to accept failure
Failures are inevitable, no matter how hard you try. A good leader is not dejected by failure but takes it in their stride. Failure does not make them crumble and worried. Instead, they remain calm looking for ways to overcome the situation.
In 1914, the Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. was almost about to go under since not many people were buying their cars. When faced with such a dire situation, other automobile owners would have lowered the price of their vehicles. But not Henry Ford. Instead, he increased the hourly wages of his workers to $5, giving them enough income to buy a Ford car. The company has not looked back since.
A great leader will lead even when faced with setbacks. They get to the root of the problem to ensure that it does not happen again in the future.
A good leader may or may not be a good orator, but they definitely have great communication skills. Having a vision is of no use unless you can explain it to your TEAM and make them believe in it too.
Clear communication is one of the strengths of a good leader. They not only express their own views clearly but also interpret others properly.
The Dalai Lama, the highest spiritual leader of Tibet, is a great example for all. He not only represents Buddhist values but also aims toward understanding and truth. You can only provide good direction when you are open to feedback and have a good understanding of the situation at hand.
You do not become a good leader by doing too many things. An important quality of a good leader is knowing who, when, and how to delegate. After all, it is not possible to do everything yourself.
Delegation does not mean getting things off your plate. Instead, it shows that you have confidence in your TEAM’s abilities. This not only inspires loyalty from your staff but also boosts workplace morale.
Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was famous for being a visionary and a genius. He was known for his meticulous attention to detail, but he also knew how to delegate. Delegating to capable TEAM members ensured Apple ran smoothly, even in the absence of Jobs.
Good leader works not just to develop their own skills but also the skills of those around them. Helping your TEAM develop their skills fosters morale and helps them improve and grow. The more skilled your TEAM is, the more beneficial they are to your organization.
Great leaders believe in sharing knowledge with the TEAM. That is how they earn the respect and loyalty of their TEAM members.
A desire to learn
If you want to grow, you have to enter unchartered waters at some point in your life. Leaders also find themselves in unfamiliar situations all the time. Good leaders draw on past experiences and trust their intuitions to guide them.
Great leaders know that whatever the situation, there is always something to learn from it. They use the lessons learned in the past to overcome present challenges.
Warren Buffet, the business tycoon, has earned his billions by mostly making the right decisions. However, he has also made some costly mistakes. In one of his interviews, he admitted that acquiring Berkshire Hathaway was one of his mistakes. He realized from his mistake that pursuing “expansions” and “improvements” in the textile industry was not a wise business decision. Although he has made mistakes, he has also learned from them. That is why he is one of the richest people in the world today.
What makes a bad leader?
Just because someone holds a leadership position, does not mean they should. The easiest way to differentiate good leaders from bad is to give them responsibility and see what they do with it. Leaders deliver results, and a good leader will always find a way to get the job done.
So, how do you identify a bad leader or someone who is only a position filler?
They lack vision
Great leaders are also great visionaries. A bad leader, on the other hand, lacks vision. When you have no vision, you cannot inspire and motivate your TEAM. Having no vision or tunnel vision is a sure-shot recipe for failure.
A good leader is able to present a clear and achievable vision, and inspire others to achieve it. But in a situation where the blind are leading the blind, this cannot happen.
They fear change
Change is a big part of life and is inevitable. Good leaders welcome change and are prepared for it at all times. Bad leaders, on the other hand, are averse to change, in both their professional and personal lives.
Change is necessary for growth and development. Ineffective leaders avoid change and are opposed to new ideas, new systems, or anything that is new to them.
They don’t communicate
Effective communication skills separate a good leader from a bad one. Poor leaders fail at communicating. They don’t inform others of their decisions and don’t clarify important things to their TEAM. What happens as a result? The TEAM is unsure of what to do. They have no idea what the vision is or what their target is. The outcome is a failure. Bad leaders are also not open to feedback and opinions that do not match theirs.
They think they know everything
Good leaders have confidence in their strengths, but they also are aware of how much they don’t know. They have an innate desire to learn and do not feel the need to be the smartest person in the room at all times.
Being curious about new things and having a desire to learn are important traits of a successful leader. Someone who is not curious about different aspects of the organization is a huge red flag. Unless you learn about the different aspects, only then would you be able to identify growth opportunities. Someone without curiosity is just filling a leadership position and is not leading at all.
They follow the same leadership style for all situations
As a leader, you must be able to handle different situations differently. A one size fits all leadership style does not work for anyone. Great leaders are flexible and change their leadership style according to the situation.
Being rigid only creates a fractured culture that hampers productivity in the long run. You can only be a successful leader if you adapt to the situation quickly. Good leaders collaborate, bad leaders, dictate.
They blame others
Good leaders accept responsibility, for their successes and more importantly, their failures. They give credit to their TEAM for success and take the blame for failures. Poor leaders do just the opposite. They blame others for their failures and do not take responsibility for their actions.
When a leader blames those around them, it seriously dents TEAM morale. Good leaders look for partners to find solutions and not scapegoats.
The traits of a good leader
When you think of strong leadership, there are certain traits that all good leaders exhibit.
Integrity in leaders is all about being honest, reliable, and trustworthy. They practice what they preach. They own up to their mistakes instead of blaming others.
For top-level executives, integrity is especially important because they are responsible for making many significant decisions that chart the course of an organization. Integrity is one of the core values of a good leader. Their TEAMs know that they can depend on their leader to support them through difficult times. They also know that the leader is going to help them meet their individual goals as well as that of the organization.
Humility and self-awareness are important traits of a good leader. You can only be effective as a leader if you are aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. Being self-aware helps leaders look beyond their own interests and how their actions affect other people. It allows leaders to act in the best interest of everyone- their TEAM, the organization, and even themselves. Self-awareness enhances the ability to stay focused on the task at hand.
Gratitude is very important for organizational success, as it improves productivity and creates a happier workforce. For creating a robust culture of gratitude in the workplace, leaders should show their sincere appreciation and gratitude to their people. An expression of gratitude costs nothing. However, by expressing gratitude leaders can create a pleasant work environment where every member of the TEAM gets in on the action to achieve organizational goals.
A good leader is able to influence people. However, there is a difference between influencing and manipulating people. Poor leaders manipulate while good leaders use logic and cooperative appeals to convince people. They help their TEAM see the bigger picture, which motivates and inspires them to reach for their goals.
Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of fear. Leaders have to make many decisions, and some of them can be very difficult. Whether you are a top executive needing to fire an underperforming employee or a worker who needs to flag concern for someone senior, it takes courage. You need the courage to do the right thing, which is why it is an important trait of a good leader.
The traits of a bad leader
Your workforce is only as capable as the leader. If your workforce is not performing as expected, you should look to their leader. Here are some of the traits that bad leaders often demonstrate
When different people work together, conflicts are bound to happen. Dealing with conflicts efficiently is necessary for a cordial workplace environment. Bad leaders, however, avoid conflicts hoping that they would go away on their own. This only worsens the situation. When you let it fester, a small conflict will grow bigger, eventually turning into an ugly situation.
A good leader knows that it is not possible to please everyone, and making difficult decisions is part of their job responsibility.
Rationalizing unethical conduct
If a leader rationalizes bad behavior, they are setting themselves up for failure despite being talented or resourceful. Getting involved in or encouraging unethical practices for short-term gain is proof of a bad leader.
Inability to influence
A good leader is able to influence because of certain qualities like trust, knowledge, communication skills, and negotiation skills. Poor leaders leverage authority and power, which does nothing but hamper productivity in the workplace. Someone who depends on the authority of their position to motivate or influence others risks alienating their TEAM, which does not spell good news in the long term.
Lack of strategic thinking skills
Bad leaders lack strategic thinking skills, which is why they fail to identify practical steps to fulfill their objectives. Not everyone has all the answers. However, strategic thinking is a skill that can be learned and honed. Poor leaders depend too much on themselves for making decisions, instead of involving their TEAM and other people in the organization.
Poor delegation skills
Leaders who take on too many things often have to rush last minute to meet deadlines. Unable to delegate and poor time management skills are signs of a bad leader. Efficient leaders know who to delegate and when so that the work gets done on time. They ensure that everyone is clear about their role, which ensures the timely delivery of work.
What can we learn from bad leaders?
No one sets out to be a bad leader. Everyone wants to do a good job. There is a lot to learn from good leaders, but even bad leaders can teach you some valuable life lessons.
Be a good listener
Bad leaders don’t listen, and that is what makes them bad. If you want to become a good leader, you need to learn to listen to the ideas others have. Making others feel heard and that their ideas and opinions matter are the signs of good leadership.
A bad leader cannot adapt to the different personalities and working styles of their TEAM members. To become a good leader, you should be able to roll with the strengths and weaknesses of your TEAM members.
Employees do not respect leaders who lose their cool at the drop of a hat. Remaining calm even in a difficult situation can help you earn the respect of your employees.
Mistakes happen. Employees may not want to approach a boss who gets angry when they make a mistake. Good leaders are capable of forgiving and do not hold a grudge when someone makes a mistake.
Have the right perspective
A leader who does not listen to others or accept feedback will have a very narrow perspective on things. Instead of a one-sided viewpoint, you should try to listen to others’ perspectives for a more well-rounded vision.
What can we learn from good leaders?
Not everyone is fortunate to work under a good leader. If you do, here are some lessons you can learn from them.
See the bigger picture
Great leaders see the big picture. Their vision is not limited to the quarterly or yearly report or what the shareholders expect from them. Instead, they can step back and look at the broader view.
Amazon is an e-commerce giant, but Jeff Bezos did not bring it to where it is today in a quarter or a year. Remaining focused on the greater goal is one thing to learn from a good leader.
Don’t be afraid to fail
If you are afraid to fail, you will always be averse to risk. Leaders often have to take the leap of faith, despite knowing the risks. Your failures do not define you. However, it is important to learn from your mistakes so that you don’t repeat them in the future.
Be willing to trust
Delegation is a skill that all good leaders have. If you are not willing to trust, you may also fail to delegate. Micromanagement is not conducive to the work environment. A good leader trusts their TEAM members to execute their vision.
Develop your communication skills
A great leader is able to articulate their vision clearly, helping others see and believe in the vision as they do. Communication is so much more than giving a great speech or writing a great email. It is about making complex ideas simpler so that others can understand them too. Of course, being a good listener is also important for great communication skills.
Being accountable is another trait you should learn from good leaders. You want your TEAM to be innovative and try out new ideas. However, if an idea fails you cannot start blaming your TEAM. As a leader, you need to be accountable for your actions.
Good leader vs bad leader in various situations
Good leaders and bad leaders respond differently in different situations. Let’s see how a good and a bad leader would respond in certain everyday situations.
Situation 1: Accepting ideas
Your employee comes to you with a suggestion that could help the TEAM. As a leader, you should have been the one to come up with the idea.
Bad Leader: A bad leader is not open to accepting ideas other than their own. They may ignore the idea or come up with an excuse for not implementing the idea. As a result, your TEAM will eventually stop giving you ideas as they know they will only be ignored. You will lose the respect and trust of your employees.
Good Leader: You accept the fact that you did not come up with the idea. Nevertheless, you thank and appreciate the TEAM member for their suggestion. You also ask questions to ensure that you have all the information needed to implement the idea. You earn the respect of your TEAM members, and because of their idea, you may even have one less thing to do.
Situation 2: Answering questions
A TEAM member asks a tough question in a meeting, such as a rationale behind a certain decision made by the management.
Bad Leader: Getting offended by tough questions is the hallmark of a bad leader. Bad leaders either get angry or change the subject in such situations. Your TEAM realizes that you are not open to tough questions, and there is no scope for a healthy debate in the workplace.
Good Leader: No matter how tough the question is, a good leader explains the motivation behind the decision. They go the extra mile how the decision will benefit the organization and the employees in the long run. A good leader manages to get everyone on the same page and encourages the TEAM to explore new ideas.
Situation 3: Dealing with different personalities
Your company is hiring from outside of your region. You are used to saying things gently and often indirectly. However, your new employee is very direct.
Bad Leader: A bad leader does not appreciate those different people may have different communication styles. They expect everyone to adopt the same style of communication as them. In this case, the leader will either ignore or blame the employee for the communication issues. As a result, both the leader and the employee are going to be frustrated, resulting in poor TEAM work.
Good Leader: A good leader recognizes the fact that the employee has a different personality than most people they work with. Nevertheless, they do their best to adapt to the employee’s style and do not get offended when the employee gets too direct. Over time, both of them will be able to find some common ground leading to more efficient communication.
If you are a good leader, there is still room for improvement. In case you are a bad leader, you can fix your mistakes and start afresh. Being a leader is about inspiring passion and motivation in your followers. A leader not only has a vision but also knows the path to realizing it. Great leaders ensure that their TEAMs have the tools and support to achieve their goals.
James McLaughlin, DBA