Not Born to Lead

Very few people are born to lead. Leadership is a skill that is earned through perseverance and practice. Every one of us have the potential to be a leader and part of that life-time journey to leadership includes practicing and refining the characteristics and traits the embody a leader. While there are many characteristics that make each of us up, below are five basic traits you can start practicing today.

Good Leaders are responsible. In our June 16th and June 23rd blog posts, we talked about Stepping up to the Plate taking Ownership.  These are two examples of being a responsible leader. As leaders, we have to continually demonstrate responsibility by caring for those around us, caring for our business or organization, and caring for our community. This means taking the appropriate steps and actions to ensure continued success.

We are often faced with challenges that require us to step back and take a breath. An exceptional leader demonstrates patience every day. Whenever we interact with other people, we are bound to get into situations that are stressful or have conflict. A leader steps up and is patient when working with problems and with those around them.

Along with patience, a good leader needs to be flexible and creative when handling all situations. It is not uncommon to be faced with a project that didn’t go as planned. We have to avoid being rigid with the original plan and be prepared to think creatively and maintain flexibility when approaching problems or hurdles. I often look at my hurdles and my clients as if it is legal and ethical (see our blog post on ethics) and if we can find a way to make it work.

Communicate, communicate, communicate! Communication is a skill that I can’t over emphasize. A good leader knows how, when, and what to communicate. Often we have information to share or need information to complete tasks or goals, but we still drop the ball. Almost all conflicts stem from misunderstandings or different perceptions. A good leader can communicate using necessary channels (e.g. verbal, written, etc.) in a way that not only gathers or disseminates the right information, but also builds up those around them.

Finally, a good leader carries not only a presence but also humility around them. A good leader doesn’t act standoffish but rather makes everyone around them feel accepted and desired. A great approach is to look at everyone you come into contact with as someone who knows more about something than you do.

Practice these traits on a regular basis and when you drop the ball (and you will) take it as a learning opportunity and forgive yourself and those around you.

You can be a leader, but beware this is a life learning skill that is rarely truly mastered and will nearly always take continued practice.

Own Up

It is easy to point the finger when things go wrong. When productivity levels drop, when there are issues with the quality of work in your department, or when mistakes are frequently being made, it is often a knee-jerk reaction to blame the seemingly responsible individual. Directing accountability to the person at fault may seem fair, but a trait of a strong leader is understanding that you are responsible for everything that happens within your organization, and being willing to own up to that when mistakes are made.

Sharon manages 10 employees in the loan production department at a local community bank. Brittany, one of her employees, has quarterly production goals that are expected to be met. Last quarter, Britany failed to meet her production goals, and this current quarter Brittany has not even at the halfway mark for meeting her sales quota.

The end of the quarter comes and goes, and Sharon’s supervisor questions her about why production levels have not been met for the past two quarters for her department and disciplines her for allowing this to happen twice in a row. Sharon immediately goes on the defensive, blaming Brittany for not meeting her goals. Her manager quickly coaches her on how it is her responsibility to be aware of areas in which her employee is struggling, to train then appropriately in these areas, and to take preventative measures to ensure mistakes do not occur.

At the end of the day, one of our biggest duties as supervisors is managing our employees. Part of that is taking responsibility for the actions of your employees. Granted, depending on the situation you may not have any control over their actions, but it is your responsibility to be aware of what your employees are doing. Familiarize yourself with their work and be attentive to their needs. Setting the example of being willing to take responsibility for the actions of your employees will prove to them your commitment and dedication, providing them with guidelines of how to take accountability for their own performance and behaviors.

Stepping Up to the Plate

Edward is an executive in his organization and his team has just landed a new client which has resulted in a large project load with a strict deadline. Over the course of 3 weeks, his team has worked diligently to ensure the project stays on track and smaller deadlines get met. Unexpectedly, one of Edward’s employees is in a car accident and has to take a medical leave of absence resulting in a 6-week absence. Though the remaining group is trying diligently to delegate tasks accordingly, assignments are soon not being completed in a timely manner and there is a risk of the final deadline not being met.

With a few weeks left until the project completion date, Edward makes some changes to his current work load to accommodate the need to help his team. He manages to reschedule other projects to allow him the time necessary to work alongside his team in place of the absent employee to get the job done. As the project reaches completion, Edward works a few late nights with his crew and proves to them through is actions that their work is appreciated and valued, and nothing is beneath even the most senior of managers.

One of the key characteristics exhibited by strong leaders is leading by example. When you expect your employees to perform a certain way, it helps keep morale and productivity high when they can see that you practice what you preach and are willing get down to the grind to do the same work if necessary.

Set the example that you want your employees to follow. Stepping up to the plate and working alongside your employees makes them see that you believe in what they do, that their work is valued, and at the end of the day you are truly a team player.

The Ethical Boundary

As leaders, we are often faced with ethical dilemmas that can range from whether or not to accept a bottle of wine from a client (assuming company policy says not to) to padding the books or investments as a cover-up.

Ethical failings don’t just occur in the realm of big leaders, but are often present at every level of society. Unfortunately, this often happens with one little slip into a gray area. For example, a long time bookkeeper for a small office was running short of money for lunch one day, so she “borrowed” from the petty cash. With full intent of replacing the funds she promptly forgot the next day. A couple of weeks later, she “borrowed” more money because she didn’t have time to go to the bank that day. At this point, she starts to rationalize in her head that the executives make a lot more money than her and she deserves a little extra compensation.

Fast forwarding a few years, the bookkeeper is writing fraudulent company checks to herself and covering it up in the books until one day the business account goes negative and checks start bouncing. The executives become aware of the fraud and are left shaking their heads as they trusted this bookkeeper for many years. A question that is often asked, is why didn’t she just ask for a loan if she needed money so bad?

As leaders, we need to define and be sure of what our ethical boundaries are. Don’t be the person who will sell your ethics for small amount, or even a lot of money. At the end of the day, it isn’t worth it. If you start down the slippery slope with minor transgressions, you can easily fall into the trap of ethical missteps where the consequences are serious.

Ethics, or simple honesty, is the building block upon which our whole society is based, and business is a part of our society and it’s integral to the practice of being able to conduct business that you have a set of honest standards. – Kerry Stokes

What is a Leader?

Steve has been working as a janitor for two years at a local clinic. Even though he often works evenings with little supervision, he always is upbeat, hardworking and shows up on time for work. Steve’s coworkers, from doctors to receptionists, enjoy it when Steve is around and often feel motivated in their own jobs by observing the positive way in which Steve works.

Webster’s Dictionary defines a leader as someone who has “the power or ability to lead other people.” In a general sense, we often think of a leader as the President or a high-level executive of a company; the individual who has been granted authority over a country or an organization. However, the reality is that we can all be leaders in whatever our field or station in life.

Steve, as a janitor in the clinic, is demonstrating leadership within his organization despite having no authority over anyone and is in a field (janitorial service) that is often overlooked. Whether you are the “big cheese” in your organization or the “little guy,” you have the power to influence those around you. This power to influence can be either positive or negative.

While everyone has a bad day from time to time, do you pick up the pieces and move on, or continue down that negative path? When you misstep in your words or attitudes around your coworkers, do you take the time to apologize and try to correct the behavior?

Over the next few weeks, we will delve into what it means to be a leader, but don’t wait for us. Start today by reflecting on your own behaviors that exhibit leader-like qualities and work on demonstrating a good work ethic and positive attitude.