When put in a position of power and control it's crucial to get into the right mindset. The same mindset that got you to this position may not be the same mindset that'll make you successful in leadership. Some of the things that got you here such as work ethic and a good attitude continue to play important roles, but a leader must possess certain attributes. These attributes vary depending on who you ask, what you read, and what latest inspiration you find on a TED Talk. At Leader School though, we have a few particular qualities that we find resonate very strongly within every leader that we’ve admired.
If you passionately believe in something then your team will too. Part of your function as the leader is to have a visionary mindset. Having a vision and communicating that vision to your team will ensure everyone knows which way they're headed. It also ensures your team has a reference point in order to make accurate decisions. Being a leader without vision is like steering a ship in the dark with no compass, you'll get nowhere fast. Having a well communicated vision ensures there's something bigger than any individual on the team, a goal everyone can rally behind. Everything you do and every decision you make should be in support of that vision. Your vision should be aligned with your superior's vision, which needs to be consistent all the way up and down the chain of command. You need to sell the vision and constantly re-sell it. Half-assing this one won't work, it's what keeps your team thirsty to complete the mission.
As a leader you should not be concerned with looking good. It's short lived. You should be concerned with your team looking good. Your perceived ability to function as a leader is in direct proportion to how well your team does. Why? When things go wrong, who takes the heat? The leader. When a sports team fails, they don't fire players they fire GMs and coaches. This mind set has a crucial result, the loyalty of your team to you. It's that loyalty that will keep them around when times are tough. To be selfless requires self-discipline. Self-discipline is required to overcome that self-preservation mind set when faced with adversity, and instead make sure you are focused on the mission and the people under your charge. Your mission and people need to be taken care of before you are. You now carry the great responsibility of galvanizing and motivating the team to accomplish a common goal, don’t forget it.
A note about selflessness: this doesn't mean you neglect yourself. We don't need you coming into work looking haggard because you’ve been sleeping on the couch in your office and not showering. Self-neglect isn't a sustainable way to operate, it leaves you burnt out and eventually ineffective. While your concern does need to be on the betterment of the organization and placing the team first, you still need to take care of your needs so that you can still effectively lead.
Accountability is such a core trait to possess. It is the difference between talking big and doing big. It is what allows you to accept responsibility for you and your team’s actions instead of pointing fingers and looking for blame or seeking credit. The embodiment of accountability WILL lead to greater trust, responsibility and integrity in any organization, and it all begins with the leader. Accountability is what we find is lacking in the work place today. It is closely related to selflessness as you cannot be accountable while having an ego or while self-preserving. This is also one of the harder attributes to develop, I mean who really wants to admit a mistake or put their hand up when it’s their fault when things go bad? All that being said, this is the trait that lays the foundation for courage. Be Courageous.
Every leader needs to have a resilient mindset. As the saying goes, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. When comforts disappear, deadlines loom, everyone is tired and stressed, all eyes will be on you. If you step forward they'll keep pushing, but if you stall, everything comes to a halt. You don't have to be the smartest, strongest, or best looking, your mental toughness will take you further than anything. A strong and resilient mind is the one that will be able to make the ethical and moral decision in an environment of ambiguity. Resilience doesn't mean going until failure, it means having the grit to push through the pain and to know when you need to ask for help. This is the burden of leadership. But hey! That's why you get paid the big bucks.
If the members of your team are the ones with their head down, grinding it out, you need to be the one with your head up, doing the steering. Situational awareness cannot be stated enough. You cannot have your head in the sand. You need to be looking left, right, up, below and out, far out. You are the one responsible to position the team to tackle the next obstacle, problem or task. You need to ensure your team’s efforts are coordinated with the other teams that are operating left and right of you, as the greater organization is accomplishing it’s bigger goals; you need to be aware of where your team is heading what’s over the horizon.
There are more attributes that we find very important, however, these are what we feel are the must haves for any individual looking to effectively lead a team. We truly believe good leadership can be trained and developed. Even if you don't possess all these attributes now, you can develop them, consciously. Leadership is a skill and a mindset that requires practice, growth and action over time. To get better you have to make the effort.
Biren Bandara, BSc, CD
Founder and CEO