5 Things Leaders Must Do to Stay on Top

From listening to staying organized, here are five skills leaders need to possess to rise above the rest.
5 Things Leaders Must Do to Stay on Top
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Regardless of the company size, a successful leader has a certain skillset to make her stand apart from others.

I’ve had the opportunity to work at a Fortune 50 company and a 3-year-old startup, and I’ve found that success at each one is driven by the same factors. These traits have led to my success, whether leading a small marketing team at Microsoft or leading a large national retail team at Porch.com. You can lead at any level in an organization. 

Here are the five skills leaders need to possess to rise above the rest: 

1. Organized

Being known across your company -- regardless of size -- as a person who is organized increases the velocity of your projects and greatly improves your credibility with peers and management.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

I approach every day with a clear set of expected outcomes and track my progress. This forces me to prioritize and ensures that the most important things get done each day. 

Does organization not come naturally to you? Then work at it. Get a book, try a co-worker’s system, and keep trying until you find a process that fits your work (and life) style. The rewards far outweigh the investment.

2. Reliable

Early in my career, I was really bad at this.  Instead of “under promising and over delivering,” I would “over promise and under deliver.”  This left managers and partners frustrated and behind on key projects.

The reality was, I worked hard, but I estimated time poorly. Underestimating the time involved with a project and failing to consider the impact of the time delays can be a deadly combo  -- especially in a large organization. 

Estimate the time your own work takes and the time it takes to navigate company politics (yes, all companies have them, regardless of size).  Know the value of buffer time.  When you set a completion date for your team be 100 percent certain you can meet it because you’ve built in a 20 percent buffer.  This type of up-front planning allows you to identify which elements of a project are most important and prioritize those.  The buffer gives you a safety net for when things don’t go as planned.

3. Good listener

I’d argue that listening is far more important than talking and is the secret to getting things done in a large company. 

Use a simple convention to help colleagues feel heard, while still moving them toward the desired outcome.  When a colleague shares their viewpoint, listen intently, and as they conclude, ask them “Can I re-cap what I just heard?” Then paraphrase the key points.  The goal is to get them to respond with “That’s right.” This simple convention builds trust and improves productivity because your colleague feels their viewpoint has been heard and acknowledged. 

Related: Persevere or Quit: There is No Other Option.

4. Accountable

Leaders hold themselves and others accountable.  This can be uncomfortable at times, but it’s required to achieve success.  Accountability starts by “doing what you say you’re going to do.”  As a leader at Porch, I hold myself to a high standard and hold my team accountable to deliver their best work. 

Reputations develop quickly -- even in large companies -- so strive for your team to have a rock-solid reputation: hard working, results-driven, and respectful of each other.  Be accountable to yourself and others, so you’re well positioned for the next big assignment.

5. Kind

Never underestimate the power of kindness.  If there is one thing I can teach my twin toddlers, it’s this:  “The world is small, be kind to everyone.”  Invest time in being genuinely interested in your co-workers and be generous with kindness.  Send a thank you note to the co-worker who helped you hit the deadline on time.  Take time to ask your colleague about their weekend or their family. 

Related: Employees Lose When Leaders Stop Leading

Treat everyone with respect.