This week I accept the challenge from long-time professional contacts, Sandip Sen and Linda Hughes to write about what I think makes for a great leader. As many of you know, anything I write needs to be as applicable in Buenos Aires as it is in Helsinki. With that in mind, here is my criteria for a great leader:
Great Leaders Build Trust
How people build trust varies between cultures. But one thing is for sure: a leader knows how to most quickly and effectively build trust in their own culture. For instance, a leader in Germany will focus on logic and facts to show his or her expertise. That might help in other places too, but in Mexico a leader builds trust by showing his or her ability to show compassion and take care of others. In India a leader is trustworthy by showing how much he cares about outcomes. Whatever the culture, trust is the common characteristic.
To build trust, you also need consistency. Followers need to know that they can count on their leader. How much trust would there be if a leader lost his composure when the company’s key client decides to go elsewhere or when the investor walks minutes from when they were supposed to sign the papers? That’s when the rubber meets the road and you learn exactly what type of leader is in charge.
Great Leaders Drive the Train
Sometimes there is confusion around a leader’s true role. But the bottom line is this: a leader sets the vision and the direction. They decide which track the train is going to ride. They don’t collect the tickets and they don’t fetch coal from the coal car. The leader needs to bring in the right resources to keep train moving towards its destination.
Sometimes it may be hard for a leader to let go of certain functions they’ve grown used to managing. This is especially true for many entrepreneurs. They used to write the code or answer online chats. And now they focus on resources like the next round of investment funds. Even a great leader can slip backwards into tasks they should be delegating. But it’s never too late to focus on the track and arriving at the destination safely and on time!
Great Leaders Communicate the Right Messages to the Right People at the Right Time
That’s actually a very tall order. But great leaders master this art of message and timing. It’s about communicating vision and strategy. But it’s also about communicating hope and the plans in times of crisis. Recently my company decided to walk away from a bad investment deal. It was the right decision, but had serious implications for staff who were counting on increased budgets and additional staff. Our Founder and CEO brought everyone together in a company-wide meeting. He told us the news and then put it into context that we could understand why it was better for the company in the long run. The CEO answered questions about how the news would impact employees and various projects. No one left the company from the news and everyone continued to work hard moving the company forward.
Some rules for this messaging: First, anything written or said must be sincere. People know when they are being misled or else they eventually find out. Communications need to be clear and focused. And there needs to be a way, direct or indirect to find out if the message was received in its intended way. Feedback loops are key and often ignored by most leaders.
I hope you found this article interesting. Please feel free to comment to add to this discussion!
Best wishes in all of your business efforts,