I’m simply going to get right into it: a lot of leadership traits are bullshit.
Fact is, great leaders are an embodiment of many qualities. It is the blend of the qualities that makes each leader unique in every environment. Some leaders may be more cool-headed; others may be great communicators.
Leadership is such a nebulous term which has various definitions based on the organisation that they are in. The culture and values of the organisation are factors that can set the type of leadership they are looking for.
“Siri, what are the traits that leaders should have?”
Asking that gives you at least 350 million results, within the first page and the second page being almost indistinguishable. The only distinction between all the links? It’s about the source.
Does it come for a blog or from a news site? Is it a thesis, or is it a contributing article on Forbes? The similarity between all of them is that they are talking about the same few traits repeatedly: honesty, integrity, communicating skills, to name a few.
While important skills, as a leader, you need to understand that these values are merely extensions from your fundamentals. Let’s not even talk about the theory, like servant-leadership and laissez-faire leadership.
As a leader, you need to have laser-focus: what are your fundamentals? The base of your leadership is significant as it is the deciding factor for how your ‘extensions’ will be like and how effective they will be.
In this day and age, leadership is a tricky thing; businesses have to manage a multigenerational workforce and millennials and Gen Z’s pose great management challenges on their own.
Be it at work or on campus, effective leadership is only displayed when a team of people with opposing personalities work together with enthusiasm and passion, without asking for rewards or holding any expectations.
Here’s the key: asking for rewards and holding expectations.
Setting the stage
Ditch those traits on integrity, passion, and respect—we are looking at fundamentals here. Like a content strategy, when you operate without a clear direction, your leadership is bound to have multiple blind spots and flaws which you cannot resolve as quickly as you would like to.
Think of traits as branches from a tree: without the root, you are unable to grow. How can there be so many branches without a single tree trunk?
You need to set your ‘stage’: a single, solid value that you abide by like a principle, which you carry with you in every task that you do.
Violating this principle is equivalent to being contradictory to your leadership, and that is something you must avoid.
If you’ve been reading The Human Leader or following my posts, you will know that I am a big believer in empathetic leadership: it is the only leadership style that can bring any business or organisation the best of both worlds in results and engagement. Autocratic styles do not work anymore, and Laissez-Faire is only useful to a certain extent.
You’re in the listening business.
Complete autonomy married with limited management is the style. Instead of focusing on control, you focus on guiding. You adopt the role of a mentor.
However, this article is not about theory; it is about the single value that leaders must adopt to build a fundamental for the growth of their leadership.
And that is gratitude.
Gratitude specifically for the team that you’re leading; without them, there would be no you. It is the same kind of gratitude that you should have for your parents; it is through a blend of unique experiences and personalities that you are able to grow and reach the level where you’re at right now.
When you’re grateful for your team, you understand their significance in the organisation that you’re in. You know that these are the people that you’re working for—not the other way around—and that these are the people who will prop you up in the future. They are your supporters.
When you adopt gratitude, growing the ‘branches’ of that value is extremely easy only because it makes so much sense:
Why would you not respect your team?—you know that they are significant. You know that they are important to you: why would we not respect the things that are important to us?
You’re going to pay a lot more attention to them—when you are grateful, you pay close attention to what they are doing. You know that they are the people who will help you: hence, you are going out of your way to see what you can do for them. Do they need more resources? Does someone need mentorship and guidance?
Honesty will be the only policy—one of the most difficult extensions (considering that we lie every day). Honesty refers to full transparency: the process, your expectations, your objectives and such.
You’re going to be genuine—having a single solid base is the key to being consistent, and that means being authentic. When you are consistent in applying your values, you are going to grow the courage to hold true to your values and principles: sometimes, lost values form one of the biggest causes of downfalls.
Why will you not be supportive and encouraging of your team?—Knowing that your team supports you, your role is to be 10x more supportive and encouraging. Help them hit their goals and provide them with the right resources. Chart their path and assist them in growing.
You will actually start caring for your employees — caring for your team member goes beyond work: it is the conversation during lunchtime and in between breaks that allow you to understand them as a human being, not just as your team member. You know that their success if predicated many different factors, and you want to understand where and how you can best help them.
As a leader, you need to think ‘preventive’. By being grateful and adopting empathy, you’re going to understand your employees better regardless of what kind of personality or life they have.
Before underperformance starts spreading, you aim to keep your team going no matter what situation lies before them with useful, gratitude-centric leadership.
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