Characteristics of Good Leadership

In my long career as an HR professional and specifically as a leader, I have had my share of ups and downs.  It turns out that I am not alone in that realization and there are some signs that can help us recognize when our leadership needs improvement. Recognition of these signs can be crucial to the development of a positive work environment, high performance and team unity. Here are some ideas for how to improve leadership when you feel such improvement is needed.

  1. Give complete instructions or vision.  Direction that is vague and nebulous does not promote the strategy and directional intent of the business or the department. When leaders are “under the gun”, they can assume things are obvious or straight forward when, for others, they are not. When asked for input, instructions or clarification, speak in specific terms and do the thinking necessary to consider strategy, application, impact, business needs, and people. Good leaders take a breath, are patient, find out what is needed, and ALWAYS provide a why.
  2. Build up your teammates.  Many leaders feel that teasing is harmless in the workplace.  However, such teasing or comments can be a dangerous and destructive practice.  Being kind in public and corrective in private is the golden rule for positive, impactful leaders.  If “venting” is necessary, find a coach, consultant, or a mentor outside the business or work group to talk with.
  3. Follow through on commitments.  The “example” factor is powerful.  If the leader commits personally with the team to a project, activity or a change, he or she is also committed to respond and perform.  No excuses will suffice and failure in following through is devastating. However, caution should be exercised here. In doing your portion or keeping your commitment, nobody wants a leader to devalue what they have done or need to do by hyping or overstating their own personal efforts.  Celebrate the team publicly and your efforts privately.
  4. Make the hard decisions.   Indecision can cripple a leader and their team.  Employees love confidence and certainty and sometimes even the greatest of leaders doesn’t have an immediate answer.  Shooting from the hip, hiding and avoiding, or deflecting responsibility to others are not the answers here. Communication and authenticity during these times can help bridge the gap between uncertainty and a decision.  Counsel with co-workers and other leaders. “Admitting it and owning it” is a great practice that people seem to appreciate. Remember, no one person is smarter than the group.
  5. Tell people the truth about their performance.  Many leaders are afraid to upset the balance in their department by being honest with their team. They think they are keeping the peace, but in truth they are limiting team members from reaching their potential. It is important to be kind but authentic and this can be a very delicate balance.  Some employees want it straight and others don’t. Giving direct, yet balanced feedback is a wonderful leadership characteristic worthy of emulation. It may also take practice and real intention on the leader’s part.
  6. Be present in the moment.  In this day of phones, texts, tweets, workloads, or unending email, work-related distractions take us away, and quickly, from personal connection.  

This was described to me in a consulting session by a frustrated team member, who said about her leader, “if I only get 20 minutes of her time during the week, I’d really like the full 20 minutes or something close to it.” We can create an environment of being authentic in circumstances when we need our authenticity to come through, by making the people in front of us our priority. 

By sharing these simple, practical suggestions, I hope I can help others be more effective and efficient and not make some of the mistakes I made.  Better leadership is hard-fought, evolving, and is also worthy of our efforts if we want our teams to succeed. #commitmenttoleadwell!

Written by Bruce Boucher
President, Roos Advisors