Thousands of articles and books have been published describing what it takes to be a superior organizational leader. Some researchers and authors claim a superior leader possesses certain traits or abilities; others say it's all personality. Still others maintain it's the behaviors--not necessarily the intentions or thoughts--that are crucial.
Whatever your viewpoint, it boils down to this: successful leaders share the following characteristics or views:
- Mission: Leaders know what their mission is. They know why the organization exists. A superior leader has a well thought out (often written) mission describing the purpose of the organization. That purpose need not be esoteric or abstract, but rather descriptive, clear and understandable. Every employee should be able to identify with the mission and strive to achieve it.
- Vision: Where do you want your organization to go? A vision needs to be abstract enough to encourage people to imagine it but concrete enough for followers to see it, understand it and be willing to climb onboard to fulfill it.
- Goal: How is the organization going to achieve its mission and vision and how will you measure your progress? Like a vision, goals need to be operational; that is specific and measurable. If your output and results can't be readily measured, then it will be difficult to know if you have achieved your purpose. You may have wasted important resources (time, money, people, and equipment) pursuing a strategy or plan without knowing if it truly succeeded.
- Competency: You must be seen by your advisors, stakeholders, employees, and the public as being an expert in your field or an expert in leadership. Unless your constituents see you as highly credentialed--either by academic degree or with specialized experience--and capable of leading your company to success, it will be more difficult for you to be as respected, admired, or followed.
Practically speaking, not all executives immediately possess all of the characteristics that spell success. Many leaders learn along the way with hard work. As crises and challenges arise, those at the top of the hierarchy have key opportunities to demonstrate to others that they are in fact, qualified to be leaders. In actuality, greater competency can be achieved as a leader gains more on-the-job experiences.
- A strong team: Realistically, few executives possess all of the skills and abilities necessary to demonstrate total mastery of every requisite area within the organization. To complement the areas of weakness, a wise leader assembles effective teams of experienced, credentialed, and capable individuals who can supplement any voids in the leader's skill set. This ability is what sets leaders apart from others. However, the leader needs to be willing to admit he lacks certain abilities and go about finding trusted colleagues to complement those deficiencies. After building the team, the entrepreneur needs to trust that team to understand issues, create solutions, and to act on them.
- Communication skills: It does little good to have a strong mission, vision, and goals--and even a solid budget--if the executive cannot easily and effectively convey his ideas to the stakeholders inside and outside of the organization. He must regularly be in touch with key individuals, by email, v-mail, meetings, or other forms of correspondence. Of course, the best way to ensure other people receive and understand the message is with face-to-face interactions.
Getting out of the office or touring different sites is an irreplaceable method of building rapport and sending and receiving messages. "Management By Walking Around," or MBWA, meeting employees at their workstations or conference rooms, or joining them for lunch are just a few of the many effective approaches leaders can use to develop positive contacts with employees.
- Interpersonal skills: Successful entrepreneurs are comfortable relating to other people; they easily create rapport and are at least more extroverted than they are introverted. These factors help leaders seem approachable, likeable, and comfortable in their position. Those qualities contribute to staff wanting to interact with their leader. They also help motivate employees to do a better job. When workers can relate to their boss, they believe that their boss is more concerned about them, with their performance, and with their output. Furthermore, they believe that they can go to their boss with problems they encounter on the job without fearing consequences for not knowing how to resolve issues.
Not all entrepreneurs are adept at interpersonal skills. Those that aren't, might find it helpful to take a course, choose a mentor or locate a therapist to help them build interpersonal skills. The intangible cost is too high to not improve these abilities. In addition, here's where a strong team comes into play. The less experienced leader who is still learning these skills can rely on the team to get out and to "press the flesh," interact with employees, and spread a positive attitude to help develop morale.
- A "can do, get it done" attitude: Nothing builds a picture of success more than achievement, and achievement is the number one factor that motivates just about everyone across all cultures. When employees see that their boss can lead and direct, has a clear vision and attainable goals, and actually gains results in a timely manner, then that person's credibility increases throughout the organization. Entrepreneurs must modestly demonstrate their skills to give their constituents valid reasons to appreciate and value their efforts.
- Inspiration: Quite often, employees need someone to look up to for direction, guidance, and motivation. The entrepreneur needs to be that person. Hopefully, Human Resources has hired self-motivated individuals. Nevertheless, there are times, when many employees need the boss to inspire them by word or action. Employees need someone to look up to, admire, and follow. Even when the production or delivery of services looks like "it is all going well," the leader may at times need to step in personally to offer a suggestion or encouragement to ensure that employees perform their jobs in an optimal manner.
- Ambition: Resting on your laurels is bad for employee morale and entrepreneurial credibility. Employees need to be constantly striving for improvement and success; and they need to see the same and more in their leaders. When the boss is seen as someone who works to attain increasingly higher goals, employees will be impressed and more willing to mirror that behavior. It's a win-win for everyone.
The basic message in this article is that you as the owner/entrepreneur need to "be out there" for your employees. Continually demonstrate to them why and how you earned the position you now hold. Communicate with them using any of a variety of methods that show them you are worthy of being followed. Make that process inspiring and positive and you can almost guarantee that your results will be consistent with your efforts.
Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.