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8/31/2011 8:08:05 PM EST
|Leadership Skills Series: What does a leader look like?
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This is the blog post in a series to come regarding leadership, leadership traits, and leadership development.
At the most basic level, a leader is someone who leads others. But what makes someone a leader? What is it about being a leader that some people understand and use to their advantage? What can you do to be better a leader? Here’s what you need to know and do.
A leader is a person who has a vision, a drive, and a commitment to achieve that vision as well as the skills to make it happen. Let’s look at each of those in some detail.
The Leader’s Vision
A leader has a vision. Leaders see a problem that needs to be fixed or a goal that needs to be achieved. It may be something that no one else sees or simply something that no one else wants to see or tackle. Whatever it is, it is the focus of the leaders’ attention and they attack it with a single-minded determination.
Whether the goal is to double the organization’s annual sales, develop a product that will solve a certain problem, or start a company that can achieve the leader’s dream, the leader always has a clear target in mind. This is a big picture sort of thing, not the process improvement that reduces errors by 2% but the new manufacturing process that completely eliminates the step that caused the errors (being more effective and efficient). You want something that makes people say “why didn’t I think of that”, not just a toaster (for instance) that lets you select the degree of darkness of the toast. Remember, Edison did not set out to build a better candle; he wanted to find a whole new way to illuminate the darkness. That’s the kind of vision a leader needs to have.
The Drive to See It Through
It is not enough to just have a vision. Lots of people see things that should be done, things that should be fixed, or the next great step forward that could be taken. You know what I mean, it’s the “should of, would of, could of” concept. What makes leaders different is that they act. They take the steps to achieve their vision.
Is it a passion for the idea, an inner sense of drive, or some sense of commitment? Whatever it is, it is the strength that lets leaders move their vision forward despite all the obstacles, despite all the people saying it can’t be done, it’s too costly; we tried that before, or a dozen other excuses. The true leader perseveres and moves forward.
Traits and Skills a Leader Must Have
There are things that set leaders apart from other people. Some people are born with these characteristics. Others develop them as they improve as leaders. These are not magic bullets. They are things you can do and be if you want to be a leader.
Traits of a Leader
There are as many traits of a leader as there are lists of what makes a leader. Here are the fundamental traits of a leader from my perspective:
• Has integrity. People have to believe that you are pursuing your dream because it’s the right thing to do, not just because you are ego driven.
• Is a people person. Understands the differences that make people unique and is able to use those individual skills to achieve the goal.
• Is positive. A leader encourages and rewards people and makes you want to do it and do it right. A leader is not a negative person and doesn’t waste time and effort telling everyone what they’re doing wrong.
Beyond the personal traits of a leader, there are specific skills someone must master if they want to be a leader.
• Effective communication - it’s more than just being able to speak and write. A leader’s communication must move people to work toward the goal the leader has chosen.
• Motivation - a leader has to be able to motivate everyone to contribute. Each of us has different “buttons.” A leader knows how to push the right buttons on everyone to make them really want to do their best to achieve the leader’s/organization’s goal.
• Planning - the leader has a plan to achieve the goal. He/she doesn’t get too bogged down in the detail, that’s what managers are for, but rather uses a high level plan to keep everyone moving together toward the goal.
Leaders dream dreams. They refuse to let anyone or anything get in the way of achieving those dreams. They are realistic, but unrelenting. They are polite, but insistent. They constantly and consistently drive forward toward their goal. You can be a leader if you choose to be. You will be - when it matters enough to you.
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