Guest Post by Lisa Gallagher
Great companies don’t just rely on agile business models or modern organizational frameworks. In fact, how successful a business is depends on its leadership positions. The people in place to manage the general staff affect employee productivity, and, ultimately, the company’s bottom-line. A Gallup report highlights that managers account for about 70% of the differences in employee engagement. With engaged employees less likely to make mistakes and more productive, you can see how important leadership is to an organization.
If you were wondering what makes an effective leader, here are four non-negotiable traits to look for:
It may seem simple, even obvious, to say that a great leader is knowledgeable. But it’s important to note that the term “knowledge” applies to many things — industry knowledge, technical skill, and most recently, digital literacy. Industry knowledge is essential for executives and managers to make intelligent business decisions. Technical skill ensures that business processes are conducted with a high level of finesse. Finally, the rapid digitalization of the business industry calls for the ability to navigate the virtual sphere. According to Cortellazzo et al., researchers from the Ca’ Foscari University, leaders have had to adapt to the changing business landscape brought about by digital transformation. Thus, they must develop both human and digital competencies to lead effectively through continuous learning, training, and experience.
Knowledge is essential as it dictates how leaders act and respond to different business situations and hindrances. Knowledge is power, after all. Without it, an organization cannot optimize operations. To build your knowledge, attend educational seminars or enroll in short courses that will boost your skillset. Alternatively, you can learn from your current network and even seek out a business mentor.
Self-awareness is another seemingly straightforward trait. However, the concept is complex. A study by Dr. Tasha Eurich, a Ph.D. holder in organizational psychology from Colorado State University, found that self-awareness has two categories: the internal and the external. The former involves seeing oneself clearly, including one’s strengths, flaws, and areas of improvement. Meanwhile, the latter is more focused on knowing where one stands in relation to other people. Leaders must be self-aware both internally and externally to improve themselves based on their own criticisms as well as that of their constituents.
Self-awareness is vital for leaders to identify their boundaries as well as gaps in their performance. This allows them to be more open to feedback, whether it’s self-critiquing their work or suggestions from their peers. To practice self-awareness, encourage team members to suggest points of improvement and process them with a rational, not emotional, mind. It’s also good to introspect, to ask yourself whether you’re embodying the characteristics of an effective leader. This will make pausing to consider your current capabilities a habit, which boosts your self-awareness.
Communication is a multifaceted trait that entails listening, speaking, and the nuances involved in both. The goal of communication is the transfer of knowledge. Effective communication ensures that the message is put across and there are no misunderstandings. And since leaders communicate with teams, business partners, and customers regularly, communications skills are a necessity. It’s also worth noting that the recent pandemic has largely affected how people communicate with each other. Great leaders can communicate well, despite these changes.
For instance, masks are now commonplace in physical gatherings. Dustin York, the director of Maryville University’s degree program in communications, spoke to Advisory about how people can practice good communication skills even while wearing a mask. Because the mask hides facial nonverbal cues, one should then make use of the rest of the body, as he stated in the aforementioned article on Advisory. York also suggests keeping one’s toes and torso aligned to their conversation partner or smiling with the eyes. These minute practices reassure your conversation partner that you’re listening, making it easier for both of you to converse. Effective leaders know how to pivot their communication strategies, especially if there are physical and abstract barriers in place.
Finally, leaders must be resilient. Resilience refers to the ability to withstand all forms of difficulties. And it’s clear why this is a crucial trait for leaders. In fact, our blog post on ‘Developing Resilience’ highlights how resilience is rooted in preparations.
To prevent or be prepared for future challenges, leaders need to equip their team to deal with said problems. This involves planning, implementing relevant procedures, then testing them. For example, training your team to be a collaborative group plays well in the current work landscape. Creating a culture that values digital literacy means they will have been prepared for remote work that is on trend now. But note the resiliency also means knowing when to rest. Even the best leaders can’t operate 24/7, so remember when to retire for the day. This balance between preparation and rest will strengthen your resilience. You’ll be ready for anything — and so will your business.
Becoming a laudable business leader is a daunting task. It requires the traits mentioned above, as well as other skill sets specific to the industry. So, if you want to be a great leader, you need to start working on these traits now.