Over the holidays I caught up on some business reading — and included in all these were some obligatory thoughts on the traits great leaders should possess. Lots of the usual stuff — people skills, charisma, transparency, consistency, etc.
Those all are fine and dandy but as I wrapped up 2013 I spent a minute making my own list of the traits and characteristics that I personally look for (or look out for) in leaders — start-ups to large corporations.
Knowing and accepting that you don’t know very much about most things — None of us are all that special and, in a macro sense, we know less than we’d like to believe we do. That’s why it takes a village — including people that are very different from you. As I get to know you I draw my own conclusions about what you’re really great at and what you really suck at — but be forewarned — the list of things I expect you are really great at isn’t going to be very long. If your own ego doesn’t gravitate to this sort of conclusion — I’m not going to be very impressed. And — turnabout is fair play and I expect nothing less in return from you.
A powerful willingness to focus on your business and not your lifestyle or image. You can’t “phone it in” and build a winner — and while you’re galavanting about town someone, somewhere is still at work trying to steal your people, products and future customers. If you’re not willing to work 50, 60, 70 or even 80 hours a week while you’re building your business you need to think about being an employee instead of a leader (and thats a perfectly OK decision by the way :). If you want to be successful at the big job though — you will have to schedule rigorously so you make sure you have the time to devote to your family and loved ones — but tightly ration other personal discretionary time. If you’re not capable of forgoing the self-indugent “but I’m entitled to do ____ stuff” you’re not going to be very successful. PS — people can smell lazy, self-indulgent and narcissistic a mile off. PPS – sleep is overrated.
An unwavering commitment to doing what is necessary and consistantly demonstrating extreme grit under difficult circumstances. You’ve got to do what needs to be done — regardless of how difficult a decision is or how tedious the task at hand. As the saying goes — deal with the big rocks first. Kicking the can down the road is seldom a meaningful response to anything. Your team is watching you all the time and if you “freak out” when things go awry, or flinch at doing the necessary or difficult work — they will too.
A strong bias to strike fair bargains and compromises. In any negotiation you need to define what exactly you need to be successful — and seek to attain only that from all the constituancies you work with (employees, customers, suppliers, partners). It takes wasted effort to “dominate” — and we all hate overreach or being leveraged, and our memories of getting roughed up usually last a very long time. Besides — there will come a time when you really, really need something from one of them that you’re not exactly entitled to request — and they’ll assuredly remember how you bargained with them in the past. Oh — and PS – once you make a bargain keep your word.
The ability to laugh at yourself and to laugh with others. Sometimes — no matter what you do or try — it just a goat rodeo and things just seem to take painful, ironic turns for the worse. Laugh about it and relieve the tension everyone feels. People will admire your for this and you’ll create a calming freshness that will allow everyone to relax and re-engage.
Cheers and Happy New Year — here’s hoping for a great 2014. DC