“Great leaders are not defined by the absence of weakness, but rather by the presence of clear strengths.” ~ John Zenger
What does it take to be a leader? Are some personalities natural-born leaders while others of different personalities are exempt? Can someone in a support position be considered for a leadership position?
These are some of the questions I encounter as I work with organizational leaders to fill positions within their respective companies. They are important questions, too, because placing a person in the wrong role can have costly consequences – both financially and in the performance of the team as a whole.
In my observation through many years, leadership is not limited to one certain personality. We tend to associate it with “Type A” personalities (probably because they are the most vociferous), but there are plenty of other personalities serving well in positions of leadership. Personality will get attention, but it is not the only qualifier for leadership.
What I have observed are seven factors that all good leaders have in common. If you are wondering if you have what it takes or are evaluating an employee for a promotion into a leadership role, these seven guidelines will serve you well.
Character in any position is important, but character in a leadership position is critical. Character dictates that right decisions will be made, commitments will be kept, communications will be honest, and the work will get done. Lack of character (or bad character) can literally destroy an organization. It is that important.
A leader’s most important job is to build a team. To do so, a leader must know how to build solid relationships. A leader must know the strengths – and weaknesses – of each team member and place them well. A leader must have good communication with the team. And ultimately, he or she must have the trust of the people. A wise man once said, “You do not use your people to build your work; you use your work to build your people.” Not coincidentally, this man had some of the most loyal employees you would find anywhere.
Contrary to what you might think, a leader does not need to know everything. But he or she does need to know who does. A good leader has the ability to assemble a team that works together to create an expert knowledge panel. On the hand, a leader does need to have a respectable level of expertise in the industry in which he or she serves – and a strong determination to continually learn more.
A good driver is one who can “see around the curve”. Some truck drivers are like this – they have a sixth sense for knowing that something ahead is just not quite right. That is a highly valued quality. It is also a highly valued quality when a leader can develop this sense of knowing intuitively when something is or is not right. And it is also important to trust those instincts and act accordingly to avert disaster.
Companies these days have a tendency to fire the experienced and hire the cheaper labor of the inexperienced. In doing so, it is my opinion that they are doing themselves a great disservice. Education is, indeed, important. But education extends well beyond four years of college or ten years of college and medical school. Someone who has education PLUS experience is gold for a company. In this sense, if someone in a support position has leadership qualities and years of experience, they would, with proper training and equipping, be a great candidate for a leadership position.
6. Past Success
A good way to evaluate a candidate for a leadership position is to review that person’s previous successes. Do they have a pattern of leadership in whatever position they have served? Have they led projects successfully? Have they turned a losing program into a profitable one? Have they hit sales targets consistently? Do they have good rapport with their co-workers? These are all signs of good leadership candidates.
Nothing garners disrespect amongst followers more than a leader who cannot lead. As a leader, you must have the ability to build a team, set objectives, make critical decisions, and ensure the strategy is executed. You do not have to do all the work (that’s what the team is for), but you do have to lead.
A leader – or potential leader – who possesses these seven characteristics is of great value to an organization. Based on the criteria above, rate yourself as a leader from 1 to 10 for each area. What is your score? Any area that scores a 5 or less indicates a leadership gap…and an opportunity to close the gap in the new year.