Your organization’s culture drives the entire employee experience and ultimately determines the outcome of your team’s efforts. A culture left to itself can become something leadership didn’t intend and leads room for unhealthy and unintentional outcomes including splintered teams and wasted talent. However, an organization’s culture that’s molded intentionally, builds on what’s true, and leans on carefully crafted core values will cultivate a positive experience for employees and guide your team toward success.But how do you develop an intentional and powerful culture in your organization? Whether your organization is brand new or your team has been coasting for several years, or maybe even decades, now is the time to ask yourselves collectively: Who are we? Who do we want to be? What experience makes us, us? How can we ensure that our core values are upheld and lived every day? How do we nurture and grow our people? Although the entire organization should be involved, a good place to start with these questions is with the leadership team.While your organization’s cultural “success” is less about your leaders and more about your ethos as a whole, it’s the leaders who sustain those values and bestow them upon their own micro-teams. While a variety of tactical skills are needed for each of these leaders to conduct their work, there are some core leadership traits that all industries share. These leadership attributes can drive your culture, empower your employees, and potentially overhaul your organization for the better.
The 7 Most Important Leadership Qualities
Pride is the enemy of business. Any teammate putting his own ideas or successes ahead of everyone else’s spoils collaboration. It’s one thing to say “it’s ok to fail here,” but leadership must lead by example. An organization without humble leaders can lead to stalled innovation, since many times the road to growth is paved by “I don’t know the answer” statements. A lack of humility results in the type of tone-deaf decisions we’re too familiar with reading in the headlines. A humble leader listens to their employees, delegates openly, and instills trust in their team so that they can grow. The best leaders want to see their colleagues and constituents develop.Your organization can foster this leadership quality by demonstrating humility at the executive level. Humility can be exemplified in practicing vulnerability, accountability, and supporting a culture where openness is validated at the top. It’s ok to make mistakes--that way they can be solved and learned from more quickly. When any and every employee in the organization feels like his or her ideas are valid, the best ideas tend to come forward.
Leaders are in a place of authority to guide the efforts of their department and make key decisions. However, those decisions shouldn’t be made in a vacuum. Instead, all potentially affected parties should be given a platform and be allowed to influence the final call.Leaders who take note of the experiences and needs of their team will be better advocates for their employees and the organization at-large, not to mention foster feelings of inclusion and empowerment. We can propel better decision-makers by affording them the opportunity and trust to make calls while also giving them the tools to confidently prioritize. Forbes Contributor & CEO Chris Myers defines the prioritization tool “reflective urgency” as “the ability to consciously and rapidly reflect on the priorities, resources, and needs of the moment.” Set aside time to review key initiatives with your leaders so that these become the mantra behind all micro-decisions made every week.
Though decisiveness is key, leaders don’t just make decisions and move on; they also shoulder the consequences. A good leader takes responsibility for his own choices and actions while a great leader also takes co-responsibility for the actions and choices of every team member. By accepting a leadership role, a manager must understand that responsibility extends beyond his or her own work to that of their team. The best leaders adapt to this increased accountability by admitting when they’ve made a mistake, proactively taking on orphaned tasks, and redirecting decisions that don't pan out. The humility we’ve previously discussed is key to making accountability a natural part of your leaders’ repertoire. Accountability is best established by designating owners to every project and tying each project to a key organization goal. When any employee sees his or her work as it directly relates to organization end-game, a sense of purpose can lead to greater accountability.
Communication is the highway for all business. Partnerships are forged, sales are made, customers are retained, and teams are led through solid communication. Your leaders must know how to listen effectively, communicate ideas and directives with clarity and positivity, and express statuses and needs to stakeholders and key partners. All of these communications should be motivating, deliberate, and carefully considered. An unintentional misstep in communication could misdirect an employee or vendor, misinform an investor or executive, or even alienate employees. When great leaders communicate well, employees are taught to follow suit, which makes the entire organization run smoothly. The inverse is also true: a poor communicator can throw off the entire workflow. Foster better communication by asking questions, developing emails and meeting policies that make sense, and creating a cadence and an expectation for all info sharing.
Are your leaders creative? Not every leader has to be a creative person in the traditional sense but each leader must be willing to innovate upon current practices and processes. This quality is less about being imaginative and more about being adaptive, future-focused, and constantly driving problem solving. At livingHR, we’d describe this as our ability to roll with, and embrace, the gentle chaos that defines our day-to-day. If your leaders have a hunger to make things better and can identify what doesn’t serve the organization, the organization can move forward.Innovation is contagious. Foster this quality in your leaders by treating nothing as precious and speaking of the past only as much as it informs the future. When leaders learn to ask, “What’s next?” the organization will mold around a culture of innovation.
6. Confidence (not Arrogance)
There’s a marked difference between confidence and arrogance. We addressed the threat of pride earlier and arrogance is its cousin. Leaders who believe their own ideas to be superior to those of their team members will poison the organization. Leaders who believe that their role or status affords them unnecessary or undue privileges aren’t thinking about the best interest of the whole. Instead, confidence is key.Confident leaders are decisive, bold, charismatic, motivating, and yet humble–secure enough in themselves to let others take the wheel. In fact, the best leaders are confident enough in their own leadership that they are eager to hand the reins to their capable and well-developed team members. Addressing many of the other leadership qualities will help develop confidence in your leaders: by empowering a culture of delegation, trust, and support in your organization, every worker will gain a greater confidence in his direction and skills.When you do identify a dip in confidence for a given leader, it’s important to discuss what has led to this change and address the decline. Lack of clarity, frequent change, or a recent upset or failure are often to blame. Regular check-ins and a secure sounding-board will help any employee–but especially your team leads–to air concerns and foster confidence.
Arguably the most important trait for leaders (and all humans) to possess is empathy. When your leaders can walk in the shoes of every employee they manage and every customer or client they serve, decisions will be made holistically, openly, and in ways that benefit the whole group. Leaders with empathy are far less prone to pride, greed, stubbornness, unaccountability, or overbearance. Empathic leaders will develop their team members for each employee’s own benefit, rather than to make themselves look better.Empaths are more likely to listen, take criticism well, redirect poor choices, and stand by their team members in times of error or reprimand. Your organization can foster empathy by encouraging leaders to deeply understand and walk-through each employee’s workday. They can also uphold a flexible environment to remind each team member of the individuality and humanity of their teammates, too.
Which of these leadership qualities is most lacking or most proficient in yourself as a leader or among your team of leaders? How are you working to develop your leaders this quarter? What can you do to make positive change in your organization?If you’re stuck, we can help. Our &Lead Program is a leadership development tool that can help foster these and other key qualities among your leaders to develop your team professionally and personally. Take &Lead for a Test Drive Today!