An organization is only as strong as the leaders who drive it. Its long-term success is contingent on the way it motivates employees, deals with challenges and interacts with its various stakeholders. From Wharton to Cambridge, leadership forms a fundamental component of any business school program. The ability to lead, motivate and inspire is a much admired and sought-after skill. The following traits are the hallmarks of a successful leader and are useful pointers for anyone aspiring to lead.
1. Inspire and reprimand fairly.
The key to good leadership is striking the right balance between inspiring team-members and a show of strength when the time calls for it. The former endears the leader to the wider team and can turn him/her into a mentor. The latter can be a cause for friction. However, both qualities are two sides of the same coin– both are effective tools to improve employee morale and productivity.
Empathy is the ability of a leader to connect with employees beyond numbers and statistics in order to understand their personal aspirations. True leaders stand out in their ability to infuse their team members with a positive spirit, inspire them with passion, and align their personal goals with the wider objectives of the organization.
Inspirational leaders energize their teams and focus their collective efforts towards set objectives. Cogent articulation, clarity of thought and direction, dedication to set objectives, as well as a streak of showmanship, are the traits of a successful leader.
That being said, an effective leader does not shy away from having tough but necessary conversations with the team, or individual team-members, in order to rectify a situation. Objectivity and assertiveness, backed by persuasive skills, are behavioral elements that hold leaders in good stead. What keeps the organization in harmony is analyzing situations and walking the fine line between being the benevolent inspirational figure and a tough talker.
2. Build up an aura of personal integrity and accountability.
Call it honesty, sincerity or authenticity; a leader’s personal integrity is the gel that binds a team together. It’s quite simple, really: a leader should mean what he says and say what he means. He should be direct and to the point, and also deliver on his word when expected. In a team, no one is exempt from the cardinal rule, ensuring that results are achieved on time. This quality starts at the top with leaders setting an example, which in effect trickles down to every team-member. The bottom line is that transparency owing to personal integrity begets trust and engenders a healthy organizational culture.
3. Let your work have a tangible effect on the organization.
People love seeing their work translate into great results. This energizes them and pushes them even further in their endeavors. Results should tangibly contribute to the KPIs of a project. The more a leader builds up a reputation for certain responsibilities, the more that leader will be able to exercise leverage in the organization and be an example to follow. A leader achieves this only when he’s hands-on and begins to garner knowledge on results-critical aspects of the business. The impact of results on an organization’s strategic imperatives differentiates true leaders from those who are trying to get there.
4. Let employees take the initiative
In the end, a leader is only as good as his team. Personal initiative on the part of every individual team-member is paramount to the functioning of a cohesive team. It is therefore essential for the leader to inculcate a culture of proactive problem solving. This means encouraging employees to find solutions to any challenge that may arise. Many leaders unnecessarily wade into the micromanagement vortex that stifles employee creativity and poses the danger of a constricted work environment. A true leader must create an environment where employees can drive projects to a conclusion and work through issues without much supervision. Free flow of communication and assessment tools apart, true leadership is achieved when each employee is able to display his or her leadership skills.
In my view, truly inspiring leadership is born when there is synergy between all four qualities. It is this synergy that translates into real organizational success.