Many people view leadership with a narrow lens – as simply directing others to meet certain goals. However, leadership is not a role; it is a mindset. It is about taking a stand and operating from a place of responsibility in all situations – and that includes the possibility of making mistakes and stumbling on the way.
A good illustration of why having a leadership mindset is crucial is the King’s Cross Subway Station fire in Central London on November 18, 1987. On that fateful day, commuters noticed a pile of burning papers on the tracks and alerted the ticket-collecting staff. However, due to policies, the staffers were not permitted to leave their workstations, so someone alerted their supervisor, who also alerted their manager.
As that message was making its way up the chain of command, so was the fire. As fate would have it, the paint used on the tunnels was flammable. When the fire reached one of those tunnels, it left 31 people dead and injured about 100.
Looking back at it, it was a failure in leadership that caused that tragedy. If the ticket collectors had taken action immediately, the fire would have been quelled sooner. The same would have happened if each supervisor had not decided that “it was not their job.” And, of course, anyone could have stepped up as a “leader” to strip off the old flammable paint.
In short, if only one person had taken charge and shown leadership qualities, 31 souls would not have been lost.
But why is it so difficult for people to act as leaders? Why are leadership skills so rare? One reason is that organizations tend to value processes more than doing what is right. People justify not doing what they knew was the right thing because they were supposed to do something else or it was someone else’s job according to the process book.
A lack of leadership traits and qualities is also a reflection of the lack of deeper inner work among aspiring leaders. It is always easier to expect perfection from others than from oneself. Leadership takes commitment, integrity, and standing for something larger than oneself. And often people have good reasons for not doing what they know is the right thing to do.
Leadership starts from reflection and focussing inwards. Leadership starts when you ask yourself the hard questions and are brave enough to do what most people wouldn’t do. As Lao Tzu once said, “Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” It is only when you can lead yourself that you can lead others effectively.
Are you leading yourself effectively? Here are 8 leadership traits and qualities to do so :-
1. Keep Your Promises. Do What You Say. Say What You Do.
This boils down to a simple question – Are you trustworthy? Can people rely on you?
“Gain a modest reputation for being unreliable and you will never be asked to do a thing.” – Paul Theroux.
In the past, a promise and a handshake are all people had to do to seal a deal. These days, however, you have to sign all kinds of papers to be held accountable for your promises. Why is this the case? Unreliability is almost the norm today.
The ability to keep promises and its positive effects can be far-reaching. Keeping your promises is the definition of integrity. In his bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey defines integrity as “Making reality conform to your words.” This means going above and beyond to see to it that your promises are not mere words.
Being a person of integrity has a huge impact on your leadership ability:
- It allows others to trust you
- It allows you to influence others without pulling rank
- The impact of your leadership increases with your influence
Considering how honouring promises is a critical skill for leadership success, why do some leaders struggle with keeping their word?
One of the main reasons for broken promises today is the need to please people. Afraid to disappoint, many people find it difficult to say no and say YES even when they are not willing to fully stand behind their promise.
Other reasons include:
- Not realizing that you either made or implied a promise
- Losing enthusiasm upon realizing how difficult keeping that promise is
- Lacking the strength to follow through
The consequences of not being able to keep your promises to yourself and others can be severe. For starters, you will have low self-esteem because you cannot trust yourself to keep your word. Secondly, people will not be enthusiastic about working with or collaborating with you.
How to Keep Your Promises
We all break promises occasionally. To keep that at a minimum, consider the following:
Think First Before Committing
Most broken promises stem from impulsive decisions or an inability to say no. It is wiser to think first before agreeing to anything. Check whether you have the ability, resources, and time needed to deliver something. If you are in doubt, either decline the request politely or negotiate an alternative promise. The skill to say NO is a very important but often ignored leadership quality.
This means having integrity as one of the values you hold dear. This means that you will never allow yourself to go back on your word.
Your credibility as a leader rests on your integrity. Remember, there is no trust without integrity. If your team cannot trust your decisions, you will have an incredibly difficult time leading them to success.
2. Manage Your Time, Energy, and Commitments. Be Ambitious. But Don’t Take On More Than You Can Handle
You cannot lead others effectively if you are having a difficult time leading yourself. This means having the skill to prioritize goals and holding yourself accountable for their accomplishment.
As a leader, the ability to manage your time, emotions, and attention while maintaining an objective view of your strengths and weaknesses is arguably the most important factor of success. Effective leaders are exceptional at balancing their lives.
The following tips should help you manage yourself more effectively:
Start with keeping your work area neat. According to research, working in a clean office improves productivity dramatically. This is because the brain focuses better when there is less clutter around. Moreover, the simple act of cleaning gives you a sense of accomplishment, thus setting up the rest of your day for success. The proper organization allows you to plan, prioritize, and act on your goals more effectively.
Setting goals is the process of determining your objectives in a clear and well-defined way, as well as creating an action plan for achieving them. This allows you to be strategic in your actions instead of winging them. You will be less likely to mismanage yourself when you are following a set plan.
Stressors often waylay us, as emotions can be overwhelming at times. For example, without effective stress management, a fight with your significant other in the morning could see you have a bad day at work.
One of the hallmarks of a strong leader is their ability to maintain calm during a storm. They are able to focus on their objectives regardless of their emotions. Unfortunately, no one is born a stoic. Emotional Intelligence is achieved by learning how to control one’s emotions.
Take ownership of your thoughts, time, and actions. In the workplace, this means accepting responsibility for your team’s performance. One of the best ways of exercising accountability is by assigning deadlines to yourself and doing whatever it takes to honour them.
“A person who refuses to manage himself and discipline his flesh will be disciplined and taught by life itself.” – Sunday Adelaja.
3. Accept Responsibility When Things Go Bad. Don’t Blame Others
Unfortunately, we live in a society where people like to take credit for success while passing blame for failure. You see it with politicians all the time. Perhaps, they feel like admitting that they made a mistake will mean losing credibility.
However, that mindset is detrimental to growth. How can you address a problem effectively if no one is willing to take responsibility? As a leader, if things go wrong under your watch, you should have no hesitation to look within and address what needs to be improved. After all, you are the one in charge.
While the words responsibility and accountability are often used interchangeably, when it comes to their influence on your mindset, they are quite different.
Accountability means being willing to accept the outcome of a project. As such, all you need to do is simply deliver the bare minimum. Accountability is often given by others and an external authority.
Responsibility, on the other hand, is a choice. It is a leadership trait as well as a mindset. It means taking it upon yourself to not only see the project through but also that it is a success. A responsible leader, therefore, will never be comfortable with delivering the bare minimum. They are proud when the organization succeeds and are willing to take the blame when their team under-delivers.
The best thing about taking responsibility is that it empowers you. Instead of feeling like a victim, you take ownership of the outcome. Anyone can choose to be responsible without being told by an external authority. Here’s how you can do that:-
Be Willing to Take Charge
If there is a problem, take it upon yourself to solve it. Do not assume that someone else will. The same goes for decisions. You do not have to wait for authority from someone else. Responsibility is a choice.
Your effectiveness as a leader ultimately depends on your team’s results. Therefore, instead of focusing on pleasing your team, focus on supporting them on their tasks. In case the desired results fail to materialize, go back to the drawing board and identify the pitfalls, and then come up with a new strategy.
You are not perfect; nobody is. This means that you will make mistakes occasionally. Accept any criticism that comes your way without becoming attached. Review the feedback and then make amends.
Protect Your Subordinates
This means acting as a buffer between senior management and your team. If senior management is making unreasonable demands, do not pass down those directives without expressing your authentic voice. Irrespective of the outcome, it will build trust if you stand by your values and fight for them.
Ensure Your Team Always Has Resources
Do not hesitate to ask for the resources your team needs. This will allow your department to run like a well-oiled machine. Go seek help and find those resources if your team is lacking.
Hold Others Accountable
Ensure that every member is working towards the team’s goal. Do not incentivize individual performance over team goals. Do this by holding them accountable for their team spirit. Let your people know that they are not only responsible for their own goals but also for the entire team.
4. Adopt a beginner’s mindset and always be open to learning
“I know that I know nothing” – Socrates.
To Socrates, the beginning of wisdom was accepting that you are an empty vessel. As a result, you will always be a beginner and hungry for learning.
Great leaders understand that they do not have all the solutions. As such, they have an insatiable curiosity for learning, as that is what helps them grow.
This means taking advice even from your subordinates, which is something many people simply cannot do.
We are living in an incredibly fast-paced world. This means that what worked last year might not work this year. Therefore, continuously learning is the only way to prevent yourself from becoming obsolete.
5. Learn to communicate clearly and influence people by the weight of your arguments and not your rank
If there is something that most great leaders have in common, it is their ability to communicate and influence others. To get things done, you must know how to put your message across in a clear and convincing manner.
However, this does not mean barking orders left and right. Good leaders take people with them and know how to choose the right words and expressions for every situation.
The most underrated communication skill is simply silence. Just listen. Great leaders do more listening than talking. By actively listening, they get to understand the other person’s perspective. Listening allows you to take care of others’ priorities and interests as well as taking care of the organization’s needs.
The benefits of active listening are tremendous. For starters, it is a demonstration of respect, as it shows that you value the other party’s ideas or opinions. This not only helps you construct good arguments but also builds trust.
6. Take care of the people around you. Step up to support colleagues if they need help.
Good leaders know that the health and wellness of their people play a critical role in the success of the organization. Productivity and wellbeing are not mutually exclusive, and strong leaders create an environment where people can express themselves freely.
As a result, they take it upon themselves to be supportive of their colleagues. This means offering mentorship or guidance whenever necessary. Good leaders also create a healthy environment where everyone flourishes.
“Leadership without support is like trying to make bricks without enough straw. True leaders reinforce their ideas and plans with strategic partnerships, alliances, and supportive audiences.” ~Reed Markham
7. Ask for regular feedback to identify your blind spots. Ask for help when you need to. Work with a Coach
Many leaders become so enamoured with the titles that they feel they are beyond asking for feedback. To them, not asking for feedback allows them to avoid criticism.
However, you will never be effective as a leader if you are more concerned about yourself than with the well-being of your team. This is because effective leadership comes from problem-solving as a team, not you solving everybody else’s problems.
Strong leaders are humble enough to acknowledge their limitations. As such, it is not beneath them to ask for feedback from their colleagues. What’s more, being humble makes you more relatable with your team members. Asking for feedback and hearing the honest truth is a very critical leadership skill and quality that can make all the difference.
Strong leaders work with a coach to identify their own blind spots. A coach can help you remove your own mental blocks and see possibilities that were hidden to you before.
8. Be selfless. Stand up for others. Take a fall for your team or your colleague. Speak your mind when it is what you believe, even at the risk of loss of reputation
Are you willing to stick your neck out for your team? Good leaders will have their team’s back no matter what. If the ship is sinking, they will be the last ones to leave.
Why is it important for a leader to be selfless? It is for the simple reason that your team looks up to you. According to the CEO of Michael Hyatt & Company, “Leaders replicate themselves, whether they like it or not. Your followers will adopt your habits and behaviours.” Therefore, if you want your team to act selflessly, you must be selfless in your actions.
One leadership trait present in courageous leaders is to speak their minds out. They express themselves fully and speak up for their values and standards, and are willing to take a fall for the team if speaking up means doing so. Strong leaders do not just follow orders from above. They follow their inner voice and listen to their conscience when making choices and decisions.
Mahatma Gandhi challenged us to be the change we want to see in the world. When it comes to becoming a better leader, you must be the change you want to see in your team, as well as in your communities and organizations. Before leading others, you must lead yourself.