Rivers of Thought

Life, Leadership, Business & Technology

Key Traits of a Leader

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:

Knowledgeable

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-aware

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.

Communicative

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.

Resilient

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.

Wow! It’s been a minute since I posted something here on Rivers of Thought!

My last post was a Christmas wish and now it is St. Patrick’s Day! To say the first 10 weeks of the year have been a blur is an understatement. While it may seem from the perspective of this blog that I have not been doing much. Nothing could be further from the truth! Let me catch you up on a few of the goings-on!

JANUS Program

In January I had the honor to deliver a two-day workshop based on my book Amplify Your Job Search to a group of America’s finest! I spent two days at Camp Mackall in North Carolina with 30 Green Beret. These were soldiers who were within 18 months of their transition date out of the military and into civilian life. The JANUS Program provides transition assistance to our heroes to ensure a smooth entry into life outside the military. Job search skills training is an integral part of that transition.

This was only the second live event I had participated in since the COVID lockdowns in 2019. I was a little hesitant to fly given the pandemic and some of the wacky things going on at our Nation’s capital in January, so I rented a behemoth SUV and drive to North Carolina. The drive was mostly uneventful, other than the six inches of snow that fell as I crossed the mountains one way and the dense fog I encountered coming back the other way.

Institute for Digital Transformation

Late in 2020, I was welcomed back as a Fellow of the Institute for Digital Transformation after a several-year hiatus. The Institute’s mission is to help prepare leaders and organizations for transformation. The Journal is the Institute’s blog. My first article since returning appeared in March 2021. “Is it time to disrupt the IT service desk” takes are hard look at the state of the IT service desk, the impacts of the pandemic on the service desk professionals, and offers up some thought about transforming the service desk through people, process and technology.

The Institute has also been hard at work on the creation of the Digital Transformation Manifesto.  With so many conflicting ideas about digital transformation, we thought it was time to release a manifesto in the same ilk as the Agile Manifesto. The manifesto will provide a definition of what digital transformation is…and what it is not! Be on the lookout for it coming soon!

Status Go

In January, we celebrated our 100th episode since launching Status Go in 2018. That is 100 episodes of great, actionable content from nearly 100 guests on topics ranging from technical, strategy, and leadership, to gender and racial diversity, and everything in between.

So far this year, we’ve released (or dropped in the vernacular of the podcast biz) twelve episodes, including:

Forbes Technology Council

I continue to write several times a year through the Forbes Technology Council. This is one of the many councils Forbes has developed. These councils provide a community of thought leaders across several disciplines such as human resources, finance, and, of course, technology. One of the benefits is the access to write content to appear on Forbes.com. In 2021, I have had two posts appear.

In February, I published the third installment of my Race in Tech Series, The Funnel. This post blows up the myth that there are not enough minority candidates in the job pool and challenges business leaders to “open the aperture” by reviewing their job qualifications. The Funnel looks at several organizations that are working diligently to expose unseen candidates to organizations across the country.

Part one in the series is Race in Tech, Part I: Inside the Numbers, a look at research results into the current state of employment in the tech sector.

Part two in the series is Race in Tech, Part II: Being ‘The Only’ provides a glimpse into what it feels like to be the only underrepresented minority at work or at an event. I go on to highlight some organizations whose mission is to support “the onlys”.

People Development Magazine

In March, I wrote a piece for People Development  Magazine, published out of the UK, Gender Equality in Tech – It got worse…and it may be your fault is a hard-hitting piece that reveals the adverse impact the pandemic has had on gender diversity. If you are in a leadership position in the tech sector, the reason for this regression may rest on your shoulders. For this article, I asked eight women around the world what actions men who want to be allies for women in tech can do immediately to start to tilt the scale.

Making Grandpa’s Donuts is an annual tradition at the Ton Household. 2020 brings the reminder to “do this in remembrance of me [those who preceded us]”.

This year, we took the opportunity to make a video of the story and the process of creating these delectable treats!

“Do this in remembrance of me”. Growing up in American Baptist Churches as the son of a minister (yes, Jeff IS a PK), these words were always front and center. Carved in the communion table in front of the pulpit, he would read them countless times over the years. However, it wasn’t until much later in life that these words took on a new and different meaning. With apologies to the author and translators of the New Testament, at this time when the Christian world celebrates Christmas, we would like to talk about donuts. Yes, donuts.

Our favorite thing about celebrating Christmas is the traditions, rituals if you will. Every year we watch the same movies: Scrooged (laughing at the “toaster” line like hearing it for the first time); A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out, Ralphie”); Christmas Vacation (reciting all the lines); and of course, It’s a Wonderful Life (crying at the end for the 50th consecutive year). For many years we attended the Christmas Eve service with Jeff’s mom and dad. And, of course, each season is highlighted by the gathering of family and friends, exchanging gifts and cards, and music across the generations.

However, of all these traditions, our favorite one is making donuts…it is never officially Christmas until the donuts are done. We call them “Grandpa’s Donuts”, in honor of Jeff’s Grandpa. 

Jeff’s fondest memories of his Grandpa Williams revolved around his two magnificent donut machines. Every time without fail when he would come to visit, Jeff and his siblings would run out to meet him as he got out of the car. All four of the kids would jump up and down with excitement, all asking if he brought the donut machines. And, every time without fail, he would look at us, scratch his head and say, “Oh my, I think I forgot those in Milwaukee.” He would then begin digging around in the trunk of his car and, sure enough, tucked back in the back behind all the luggage would be THE MACHINES! 

Jeff’s great-grandmother had given two Brown Bobby donut machines to his Grandpa Williams in the late 1920s. During the Great Depression, he would make donuts to sell at the Post Office where he worked. He charged a nickel for two donuts to make extra money to support his growing family.

On one of his trips to visit Jeff’s family in Evansville, he wrote the recipe in the front of mom’s cookbook. He must have known that trip would be his last. When he passed away in 1971, his mother inherited one of the Brown Bobby machines.

Over the next couple of decades, it was used to make donuts for the occasional church bake sale but eventually fell into disuse. In the mid ’90s, Jeff was a new manager and wanted to do something special for his team. He and his mom rummaged through her closet and there, tucked in the back, behind the boxes they discovered THE MACHINE! He donned his Grandpa’s old apron (handmade by my Grandma, with stitching that proclaimed the wearer to be “The Doughnut Man”) and they plugged in the Brown Bobby, fingers crossed it would still heat up. As they made the donuts and listened to Christmas Carols, something magical happened. They began to share stories about Grandpa. Gone for decades, he was remembered with stories, smiles, laughs, and tears. A new tradition was born.

In the years since, Jeff, Carmen, his mom, and his dad would gather around one of the old machines, listen to Christmas music, and tell the same stories. Stories of our parents, our grandparents, and Christmases past. We drag out the machine, plug it in, and hope that it heats up one more time. Jeff dons the apron and waves his hand over the machine testing the warmth just as Grandpa Williams did. Carmen deciphers the recipe, written in the front of a cookbook by a little old man, a very long time ago. We listen to Christmas music and tell the same old stories. Stories of our parents, our grandparents, and Christmases past. 

In 2012, Jeff’s mom was battling some health issues, so instead of gathering at her house, she and dad brought the machine to our house. She sat at our kitchen island while Carmen, dad, and Jeff made the donuts. We listened to the carols and told stories about Grandpa. At some point, it occurred to us, we were truly making Grandpa’s donuts for the first time. Our first grandson, Braxton, was born in September, making us “official” Grandparents!

As we cleaned up after making the delectable treats, mom suggested (against dad’s objections) that we “just keep the machine at our house”. She must have known this time would be her last. 

In 2019, days before Christmas, Jeff’s dad passed away, leaving another seat empty in the kitchen. Still, we made the donuts. 

This year, once again, we dragged out the machine, plugged it in, and hoped that it heated up one more time. Jeff donned the apron and waved his hand over the machine testing the warmth just as his grandfather had once done. Carmen deciphered the recipe, written in the front of a cookbook by a little old man, a very long time ago. We listened to Christmas music and told the same old stories…stories of Christmases past and of our cherished loved ones. Wondering aloud, if Jeff’s mom, much less, his grandfather could have comprehended telling Google, “Hey Google, set the timer for 2 minutes 45 seconds” instead of using an egg timer to time each batch. 

Over the years, we have given donuts to countless friends, relatives, and co-workers. We have shared the story of “Grandpa’s Donuts”. We will continue the tradition each year as long as the old Brown Bobby continues to heat. Yes, traditions tend to change with time. It is their very connection to the past that makes it so. As the future becomes the present, and the present becomes the past, the past changes. During this holiday season, take the time to pause. Remember those who came before us. Remember the ways they have touched our lives. Honor your traditions and “do this remembrance of them.”

Merry Christmas,

Jeff and Carmen (aka Grandpa and Grandma) 

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