Think about the best boss you ever had. Now think of the worst one. Which of those two most likely saw themselves as a great leader?
We’d bet the crappy boss patted themselves on the back, completely unaware of the toxic culture created in their wake. While every individual leader has unique styles, nearly all great leaders seem to possess a handful of common traits. Below we list just five key qualities of a great leader, but certainly, dozens more exist.
Five Leadership Qualities:
1. Communicate Vision and Inspiration Effectively
Does a team see themselves contributing to how much their company thrives? Employees get engaged with the organization’s mission when they can see how their daily activities make a huge difference. Great leaders can take the vision and mission of a business and break it down to inspire their team. Every single person should see themselves with an oar, proudly helping row the company to greatness.
2. Self-Awareness and Continuous Improvement
No one should expect anybody (including themselves) to know everything. We all have areas of strengths and weaknesses. Great leaders continue to push themselves to do better for themselves and for their people. But they also know they have limitations on time, energy, and knowledge. So they depend on the expertise of the people on their team to move projects forward.
Real talk: Nothing ever really goes according to plan, especially in business. Today’s world requires nimbleness and a positive attitude to roll with the punches. Great leaders can easily adapt to ever-changing situations, reassess plans along the way, and encourage their teams to do the same. Their positivity encourages their people to freely raise issues as they arise and think outside the box for solutions.
4. Strategically Minded
Exceptional leaders keep the overall goals for the company in mind as they plan out the direction for their teams. They play the long game while carefully reviewing current short-term activities. Like a military general carefully mapping out each maneuver, they see how each battle (“project”) contributes to winning the war (“program”). With every single decision, they weigh how it impacts company goals and overall success.
5. Caring and Dependable
An effective leader doesn’t necessarily have to be a natural people person. But they should recognize the humanity of each person on their team and show up for them every day. Great leaders demonstrate concern for the well-being of their people. They show respect for the team’s time and effort on projects by putting in their own time and effort too. You can count on them.
Determining Leadership Greatness
If you lead people, you might worry about whether you’re a good leader. How do you know? Comprehensive assessments can provide clues, but every leader should also watch out for warning signs that they exhibit problematic behaviors.
Checklists and Assessments
Sure, your organization may use a variety of leadership assessment tests. These tests are meant to measure how well people leaders lead, manage, and direct the work of their teams. Companies might use anything from personality tests to 360-degree leadership assessments to compare an employee to a standardized benchmark. Tests can include feedback from supervisors, peers, and subordinates (aka 360) or a simple assessment administered in Human Resources. If your business doesn’t do leadership assessments, use the Great Boss Self-Assessment as a guideline.
Warning Signs You’ve Got Work to Do
We assume you’ve gotten this far because you possess a certain level of self-awareness and maturity as an adult. These indicate a willingness to look as objectively as possible at current behaviors and to identify areas for improvement. You want to do good by your people, so you’re ready to take a look in the mirror. Do you see any of these traits in yourself?
- You don’t trust your people and don’t expect them to trust you.
If you sneak up on people to see if they’re shopping online instead of completing a project, you don’t trust them. If you ask specific questions about their illness when they call in sick, you don’t trust them. That puts your people on edge and encourages sneakiness, not compliance.
- Since you don’t trust your team to do things correctly, you watch them like a hawk. Then you step in often to do things the right (aka your) way.
You get bent out of shape when you train your people on a process and they make any modifications. Clearly, the ONLY way to do something is your way.
- You share information with your team unevenly.
Sometimes people on your team have to find out from others about important company updates. You might share some parts with some people and not bother to tell others at all. Or you withhold information as a way of punishing someone for a recent transgression.
- Everyone knows you have team favorites.
Nobody likes hearing about how the golden child can do no wrong. When you only have eyes for one member of your team, you fail to recognize others for their good work. Being the golden child is hard on the golden child, too, who stresses out about falling from grace.
- When things go well, you accept all the credit for the team’s efforts. If things go wrong, you throw your team under the bus.
Studies show that even more than money, people want to be recognized for their efforts. Leaders should take every possible opportunity to brag about their people. When things go wrong, the leader should accept the blame. The buck stops here, as it were.
- You overshare your personal issues with your team, and worse, you share others’ issues with them too.
Your people should not become your personal therapists. Save the marriage and kid problems for the professionals. And no matter how juicy the story, playing the office gossip diminishes your status and further erodes team trust.
- You constantly stroll into team or individual meetings late or cancel at the last second.
Actions speak louder than words. When you don’t respect someone’s time enough to be punctual for appointments, you don’t respect them. Period. Here are some great tips on having more effective meetings — you can thank us later.
If you detected moderate to severe symptoms of crappy bossdom, take heart! You can unlearn some bad habits with patience, persistence, and a solid helping of humble pie.
Poor managers can totally learn to reform their soul-crushing ways by adopting the five key qualities mentioned above and more. Many books — like How to Be a Great Boss — can help any supervisor improve their leadership skills. Programs like Rocket Fuel University™ help leaders launch their organization to the next level by working together in new, healthier ways.