Leaders come in many shapes and sizes, as defined by environment and individual personality. Each leader must learn to tailor their leadership style to his or her team members and distinct situations. That said, there are 10 traits essential to the success of every leader:
Trait #1: Be Honest
A leader is nothing without his or her credibility. Develop the trust of your team members, bosses, and other stakeholders by being truthful and direct at every stage of the process. This is especially important when conflicts arise; if you deal with them frankly and candidly, you will gain the confidence of those around you and move through issues gracefully.
Trait #2: Be Clear
It is up to you to make sure each task is understood, supervised, and accomplished. You must therefore be explicit in directions as well as in articulating the broader message or picture. Ambiguity is frustrating; be clear about the short- and long-term goals, your expectations of each team member, and your own role as the leader. Clarify and refine the project focus as needed.
Trait #3: Be Compassionate
An unfortunate and all-too-common side effect of modern corporate culture is that people brag about skipping meals, getting too little sleep, or otherwise competing to work harder than the next person at the expense of their own life and health. A compassionate leader is successful because he or she cares about people and fosters a positive environment that allows your team to flourish by maintaining an appropriate work-life balance. Take time to get to know your team members as individuals; you will not only engage with them on a human level and make sure they’re eating dinner each night, but you will also learn how to best leverage their talents and expertise for the good of the project. Talented, forward-thinking people want to work for leaders who truly care about their employees and communities.
Trait #4: Be Decisive
In a situation with a many possibilities, make the decision and get on with it. This can be a scary thought, because as the leader you are responsible for the outcome and the decisions that lead to it. But moving forward is always better than being stuck in the mud, and avoiding “analysis paralysis” is key.
Trait #5: Be Communicative
Say it with me: communication, communication, communication. Share information, expectations, conflicts, and advice, and you’ll keep your team working on the right projects with the right attitude. When appropriate, explain the reasoning behind requirements and decisions. Even when you don’t know the answer, always keep the lines of communications open, and don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” (But make sure you seek out the answer immediately.)
Trait #6: Be Collaborative
The best leaders seek input from all stakeholders, from the client to the partners to the paper-pushers. Share your vision, accept feedback in many forms, and delegate responsibility as well as certain low- and mid-level decisions to make sure everyone feels like part of the process. Understand each individual’s strengths, and put them in a position to succeed. By giving each member ownership over their own effort, you’ll empower them to do their best work that most represents their dedication and expertise.
Trait #7: Be Fearless
You must be willing to take risks and stick your neck out there. Build a team you trust, and drive toward the sun. Mistakes occur in every situation, in every environment, and under the leadership of everyone on the planet. Learn from those mistakes and move on.
Trait #8: Be Accountable
Confronting people can be difficult, but when someone doesn’t follow through, you must have the courage to call them out, reassign tasks, or even release them from the project. You must be able to expect your team members to deliver on their commitments. And lead by example: If you make a mistake, own it and address it immediately.
Trait #9: Be Humble
As the leader, you are responsible for the entire outcome, but that doesn’t mean you’re the only one who got there. Give credit where it is due, and let go of your need to achieve personal satisfaction through praise. Celebrate the successes of your team members.
Trait #10: Be Passionate
Whatever you do, you must live, breathe, and dive into your mission. Believing in the importance of the job will endow it with value, allowing you to better engage and inspire your team members. You prove that your interest is not just functional but also emotional, and your conviction will serve as an inspiration and a resource. Think beyond today, and ask, “What’s next?”