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Top Ten Traits of Great Leaders

By: Robert Hewes, PhD
Last updated 10/2/2014

Being a leader today is different from what it was 10 or even 5 years ago. Today’s workplace has a fast pace of change and many more demands. It also involves working with many teams usually across different time zones, etc. It’s a complex environment out there. Leading and managing have moved well beyond just commanding the troops to “get it done.” While there are a number of different leadership styles, the best leaders share some common traits. Below is a list of ten leadership traits to get you thinking about your own leadership approach for 2014.
  1. Be Results Orientated. Let’s put this right on the table: At the end of the day as a leader, you are responsible for delivering results however they are defined. In the end, it is not about effort, which is no doubt good and very much needed, but what really counts is what is accomplished. You have to keep this in the forefront of your mind as a guide to your activity. Great leaders spend their energy on the most effective activities to achieve the greatest outcomes. Remember, action orientation is good, but be oriented on the right actions. Don’t just be busy; be a busy leader who gets results.
  2. Be Customer Focused. To get the best results, you have to know your customers. Customers may be internal or external. We all have them. (Note: If you don’t know who your customers are, you need to get an answer right away.). Everything you do needs to be directed at what customers need or will need. Get “outside the glass.” In other words, look beyond your area. You should find out what your customers want by asking them. You can’t intuit this one. You should continually listen to your customers; really listen to what they have to say.
  3. Have a Vision. Simply put, know where you are headed. Have a picture of it in your head, and be able to communicate it effectively. This is not the stuff of just a CEO. It is critically important that you be able to paint a vivid picture of where your group or organization is headed. In the end, you should use the vision to motivate and guide action. Make your vision a shared one with your group. Every member of your group should be able to describe a similar picture and communicate it.
  4. Be Strategically Focused. If you want to do big things, be more strategic in what you do and how you go about doing it. Today’s leaders need to be ahead of marketplace demands while maintaining other critical functions. This is not easy to do, but it is something leaders need to tackle head on. If you are exclusively focused on what is in front of you, the future may pass you by. Look forward. The future deserves some of your attention. Think at a higher level than just what is on your daily action list. Seeing the bigger picture and looking forward are critical to succeeding as a leader; without these, one’s head is down too much. A leader should be strategically focused at least 15% of the time (the more senior, the higher the percentage). You must take a hard look at where you actually spend your time, and where you should. Make an adjustment to be more strategic.
  5. Effectively Get Work Done Through Others. Getting things done yourself is great, but it doesn’t scale very well. If you want to do big things, it requires effectively getting work done through others. One needs to become very good at delegating. Note: This can’t be about just getting items off your plate. That is transparent and not being a great leader. If you say, “If you want it done, you must do it yourself,” stop. You need to become better at delegating and having things done through others. Each week, look at what you have to do and make sure you are delegating effectively. Figure out who is the right person to tackle specific tasks or projects.
  6. Be Good at Dealing with Conflict. A cornerstone of working effectively with people is being very good at dealing with conflict. The reality is that conflict is going to happen. People think things should be done in different ways. No surprise. You should even expect it. The trick is not to have conflict be counterproductive. Learn how to successfully resolve conflict and harness the best ideas from your staff.
  7. Ask Great Questions. We’ve all seen it. You are in a meeting and someone asks a great question that unlocks a situation. Funny thing is, many times, it is the same person who asks all the great questions. If you tend to ask questions, make sure they are really good questions. For a key meeting in the future, think of three good questions to ask.
  8. Make High-Quality Decisions. Making decisions is one of the fundamental actions of an executive. And, the great ones make really good decisions. Making decisions is easy--heck, you can flip a coin to pick between two things. However, making quality decisions is much harder. Understand, reflect, and learn about your decision making process. Leaders need to make both quality and timely decisions.
  9. Be a Trusted Leader. People do want to follow and accomplish great things. All else being equal, a trusted leader will get more from his people and have a stronger following. Be someone your people can trust. It is important to remember that it takes a long time to earn trust; it builds over time. The flipside is that you can lose it quickly.
  10. Be an Incredible Communicator. Communication is one of the fundamental leadership capabilities. So much is done through communication; it is how initiatives are launched, results are reported, and a plethora of things are done in between. Remember, too, communication is a two-way street with listening as important as speaking. Great leaders listen incredibly well as part of their communication skills.

Leadership style sets the tone and approach for an organization, especially when it comes from leaders in the C-Suite. It is the classic “follow-the-leader” situation. People will watch and mimic how things are done from top management on down. One should always lead in a way that you want copied--because it will be.

Since it is the start of a new year, look at the above list and determine which one or two traits you would like to enhance in 2014. Assess where you are on. Study the skill set. Observe others who are great at the trait. Then, make a goal out of it and identify some actions you will take to improve.

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About the Author(s)

Robert Hewes, PhD has almost 20 years management consulting experience across a wide array of industries. A skilled strategist, facilitator, and experienced executive coach, he is a senior partner with Camden Consulting Group, where he has oversight of leadership development, coaching, and management training.