I regularly read content on leadership as I am constantly looking for ways to improve my own skills as a leader. I have a number of people I look to as role models on leadership whose ideas I have integrated into my own philosophy over the years. Here are six qualities I believe are essential to being a great leader along with links to articles for further reading on the topics. These are what I am striving to achieve as a leader each day.
1. Be Authentic
Leadership isn’t about accolades from Wall Street or shareholders. It’s about being true to yourself and your organization. It’s about seeking a higher purpose than money, power or fame. This means being honest with yourself and your staff about what’s important to you and what values and ethics you embody.
Tim Strickler, a principal of Strickler Consulting, talks about the need for authenticity in a world full of dishonest and dubious charlatans in corporate America in his article, “How to Be an Authentic Leader.”
“When leaders embody this authenticity, both the leader and the entire team find it a much happier and more fulfilling environment in which to bring their finest efforts towards driving company success.”
2. Focus on Organizational Development & Training
Leadership is not about titles or the size of our offices. It’s not about focusing on how to make your numbers. That’s for your management team. Leadership is about coaching and ensuring your company has the right tools and the right team to take it to the next level. Some people underestimate the importance of organizational and development training. Especially in finance. They look at those skills as the “soft” skills they don’t have time for. They’re too worried about how they’re going to make or exceed their targets. What they don’t understand is that it’s the coaching and development that enables everyone in their company to hit or exceed these targets.
Spending quality time with your managers and making sure they have the right tools and mindset to nurture and grow their staff is the responsibility of good leaders. Remember all those personality tests? Well, there’s a reason why they’re so popular. They work. They help you understand not only how you operate, but how to use your strengths in conjunction with those of your staff to enable them, and yourself, to become better. These tests teach us that having different personalities and traits is key to any good organization. We draw upon these differences to create an open environment where it’s okay to have healthy discussions on the strategy and direction of the company.
Jack Welch shares his thoughts on retaining top talent in his article: “How to Make Your Team, at Any Level of the Organization, THE Place to Be.”
“People are dying to work for great leaders. They want to be part of an engaged and successful team. They want to have fun, learn, grow and be rewarded for their contributions. The only question is, will they find that in your team or will they have to look elsewhere?”
3. Stay on Top of Trends
Leadership should also be about learning new things. We can’t be good leaders if we don’t stay on top of how the next generation of employees needs to be managed. To assume that one size fits all or that we should use all the tactics from 20 years ago is asking for your team to go to your competitors. Granted, there are some leadership skills that are fundamental and don’t change, but styles, people and cultures change over the years and it’s up to us to keep up with these changes to maintain an exceptional team.
A good example of what’s trending now is the concept of work/life balance. More and more companies are learning that providing balance leads to happier and more productive employees. Surprisingly, this change is going on in the industry that invented burnout – the banking and finance industry. What it took for this industry to make this change was tragic – suicides.
Arianna Huffington goes into detail on how big businesses are moving toward work/life balances in her article, “Big Business Finally Learns That Wellness Is Good Business.”
“Many of the recent changes were prompted by a tragic spade of suicides in the finance world. In response, many of the large banks began a long overdue rethink of their workplace practices – because of the effect both on their employees and on the decisions made. And so early this year, many of them began rolling out some first steps at reform.”
4. Be Curious
Good leaders are strategic and forward-thinking. Great leaders are always curious. They’re willing to take calculated risks and they know that to succeed, we all need to fail. They see the impossible and make it possible. They venture into unknown territories and realize that the old adage “nothing ventured, nothing gained” still holds true today.
Richard Branson talks about this in his article, “Growth Happens When You Put Yourself Outside Your Comfort Zone.”
“Humans are creatures of habit. We build our lives on patterns of thought, emotions and behaviour. Unfortunately for many people these patterns lead to complacency, which impedes growth. If we set ourselves challenges, we can bolster our mental, emotional and physical strength.”
5. Know the Limitations of Your Talent
Keeping a pulse on your staff and knowing when it’s time to give them a break or worse, to let them go, is one of the toughest things about being a leader. Few of us like to admit our own limitations and it’s just as hard to keep track of our staff and know their limitations.
Jeff Weiner from LinkedIn talks about lessons on these limitations in his article, “The Most Valuable Lesson I’ve Learned as a CEO.”
“Leaving a member of your team in a key role when it’s no longer the right fit is one of the most common — and costly — mistakes a manager can make. The good news is that with practice and experience it’s also one of the most avoidable.”
6. Be Comfortable with Loneliness
It can be very lonely at the top. Ultimately, the final decisions that impact the company fall on the shoulders of the CEO. If the company is successful, you look like a rock star and everyone is on your side. If not, you, and only you, are the pariah and no one is on your side. Take a recent example of United Airlines. Everyone’s eyes were on Oscar Munoz and no one else in the company. People never remember you for all the great things you’ve accomplished if you’ve made that one devastating mistake that ruins your reputation. That’s why the final decisions are always yours alone.
General Colin Powell has a number of great lessons on leadership in his briefing entitled “18 Lessons in Leadership,” among which is Lesson 18: Command is lonely.
“Harry Truman was right. Whether you’re a CEO or the temporary head of a project team, the buck stops here. You can encourage participative management and bottom-up employee involvement but ultimately, the essence of leadership is the willingness to make the tough, unambiguous choices that will have an impact on the fate of the organization. I’ve seen too many non-leaders flinch from this responsibility. Even as you create an informal, open, collaborative corporate culture, prepare to be lonely.”
There is no silver bullet when it comes to most challenges – leadership is no exception. There are hundreds of great inspirational quotes on leadership, but in the end my philosophy has always been to listen as closely to the experts (and the bloggers) as you do to your heart, and ultimately to define success in anything, including leadership, on your own terms.
Frank is the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Principal of AC Lordi. He has served as part-time CFO, strategic advisor, and board member for numerous early stage and growing companies. He co-founded Trestle Ventures, an early-stage private equity fund, and represents the organization on the board of several of its portfolio companies. He is the Treasurer of the Board of Directors for Independence Media, a Philadelphia-based non-profit public television station, and a board member of the Finance and Accounting Consultants Alliance (FINACA), a national association of management consulting firms. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-738-0100.