by Dave George, SVP & General Manager
Recently, a close business acquaintance asked me: “How can you tell who will make a good manager or supervisor? And, what are the characteristics one should look for in a good leader?” Shortly after, I realized that this is a great question worthy of a full explanation. After all, I have hired new staff and promoted many professionals over the years. You, too, may be in a position to promote someone to a leadership position. As a result, in this article, I have set out to identify the attributes all good leaders should possess.
To begin with, workers and managers have a fundamental difference. A worker primarily controls and directs their own activities as well as those of the individual they are collaborating with on a project. A manager’s main role is to control and direct the activities of the workers under their supervision, or quite literally “lead” their team. It is important to realize that being a great worker does necessarily translate into being a great manager. Simply put, this is due to an additional set of skills being required to manage others well. However, the following is also true: all good managers or executives are also good workers themselves. The first step in becoming a great manager should be being productive as a worker. That person must demonstrate that he or she can get work done at the highest of standards, quotas, volume and quality. A mediocre worker, in my experience, will never be a great manager or supervisor.
There are many variables that must combine for an individual to be a good leader. For this article, I have classified them into three broad areas: cognitive ability, personality traits and interpersonal skills. Together, these categories form a starting point for defining and identifying a strong leader for a management position.
There are certain attributes to consider with regards to how a person thinks that are pivotal for a manager or supervisor. Here are a few:
A leader should know with certainty what actions and procedures to take to guarantee the best results within their department. They must have the confidence that what they are doing works well. Showing doubt, while humbling on its own, is not an effective strategy in keeping team morale high. A manager who is uncertain on how to handle something relinquishes control and allows confusion to enter the scene.
An analytical leader correctly evaluates information, understands situations and correctly leverages their staffs’ abilities. Analytical leaders are objective and reasonably empathetic in their approach. They use intelligence to analyze the circumstances and situations. On the other hand, a reactive leader responds to people and situations in an inappropriate, fixed or turbulent manner. He or she is subjective in his or her approach, reacting to circumstances first rather than evaluating and analyzing them openly and objectively. This type of individual, unfortunately, leads no one.
A leader who thinks and works logically puts order and a calmness into their department and the overall business benefits from this. In contrast, a leader who works and/or thinks illogically, injects chaos and confusion into his or her own department and the overall company becomes stressed, losing sight of the objectives.
This is a leader who can “think fast and on their feet”, deftly handling unforeseen circumstances. This type of individual remains calm and composed regardless of the situation they find themselves in. A leader who is rigid, cannot adapt quickly to the new or unpredictable. This type of person fights changes and is inflexible in their approach, which can also result in unsatisfactory outcomes.
While how one thinks is certainly important, one’s personality is also a key factor in defining a good leader.
Ideal Personality Traits of Leaders
When it comes to the ideal personality traits of a leader, I believe honesty is the foundation upon which all other traits rest.
A leader must be honest. Dishonesty at any level in a workplace is a severe problem, but when it exists at a managerial level, the company is rotting from within and is headed for serious morale, cultural and alignment troubles. Someone who consistently lies, deceives, exaggerates or twists the facts is not leadership material. In fact, they are not employee material. A dishonest employee, and especially an executive or manager, can destroy employee morale instantly.
A dependable leader is reliable, stable and instills trust so that others know what to expect from him or her. A manager that is unreliable and inconsistent lowers employee confidence and trust. Over time, they are likely to strain relationships until valued employees exit the company looking for better leadership and a better office culture.
A leader who can reflect upon and understanding someone else’s point of view will be successful at expressing opinions, viewpoints and courses of action to their staff. This is a characteristic that is sometimes understated or undervalued but is critical to getting others to work well as team members. In leadership terminology, this individual will pull their staff to greater success because they understand the value of ownership in both good and challenging situations. On the other hand, a manager who lacks understanding is not safe to talk with because he or she refuses to understand someone else’s point of view. This type of individual can even demonstrate other undesirable characteristics such as arrogance, condescension, taking credit for others work, delusions of grandeur or an overbearing demeanor. A manager that doesn’t bother to empathize with his staff will also struggle to play a team game.
A good leader has an upbeat and positive attitude towards the staff and the public. They never criticize unduly, but rather look to empower and create enthusiasm. A leader who enjoys their job and their team will elicit the greatest cooperation, collaboration and respect from all concerned. When a company shares a positive outlook, even the most daunting of tasks can be overcome. Those managers who harbor cold, unfriendly or negative attitudes run the risk of garnering ill will towards themselves and the business, whether expressed overtly or not. It is important for other executives to stop that kind of behavior or a negative outlook can spread like wildfire throughout the company.
A good leader has a high sense of individual responsibility for themselves, their staff, the business, the customer base and other key stakeholders. A low sense of responsibility should disqualify someone from being a manager, let alone a leader. Working professionals with a low sense of responsibility are likely to damage the business because their actions will ultimately be detrimental to the company.
Does Not Blame Others
This trait in many ways can identify leadership by itself. A great leader does not make other people wrong, or demean them in any way, so they can artificially pump up their own self-importance. They work diligently with others to get them to take more responsibility and initiative in a way that elicits teamwork and cooperation. Empowerment from a leader goes hand in hand with not blaming others. By contrast, a person who ‘specializes’ in blaming people or making them feel inadequate creates hostility, doubt and a stressful work environment that ultimately reduces overall productivity.
This is a leader who is headed somewhere and motivates their team to accomplish that common goal. This is desirable. This individual should be able to evolve as needed, listen to their team, embrace the business’ goals and work toward making them a practical reality. On the other hand, many people are content to simply perform at whatever level they are at and may not have the ambition to do more. This is perfectly fine for workers if they are doing their current jobs well. However, this disqualifies them from being a manager, let alone a leader. Simply put, one is either a leader and manager or a worker.
Prefers to Lead
People who would make good managers prefer to be in positions of leadership, rather than having lesser responsibilities. They enjoy encouraging, leading and managing others without dreading it as a burdensome task. Good leaders can persuade others to work toward attaining the aims and goals of the company. However, just because someone relishes the chance to lead does not necessarily mean they will make a good manager. Some professionals may be driven to apply for leadership positions for resume-building or ‘ladder’ climbing. These types of individuals may have a false idea of their own abilities. Nonetheless, those who do not want to be leaders generally do not make good managers or executives. You can’t do something well that you don’t really want to do!
The third aspect of successful leaders involves how they interact with both their fellow managers and those under their supervision.
A good manager focuses much of their attention on the productivity of the business. They motivate others to be productive and act quickly to remedy any deficiencies they see. A person who is themselves unproductive or who frequently justifies low levels of production is failing as a manager.
A good leader stays active and energetic, both in their professional career and in their personal life. A leader knows that being energetic does not involve unnecessary activity or chaos, but rather the appropriate amount of excitement needed to keep staff morale high. A slow or sluggish manager sets a lowered tone for the whole department and even the business. Staff will generally gravitate towards the least common denominator.
One of the reasons a leader is a manager is because they act on their own rather than waiting for someone else to tell them what to do. Failing to act makes a manager just another worker. A manager who is hesitant to take initiative risks losing control over their department and negatively impacting the overall company as a result.
Willing to Control Others
A leader wants to lead, and a good manager must be willing, when required, to control others under his or her supervision. A common trait of a poor manager is an inability to control the people that work under them. Ineffective leaders often ignore their staff and actively avoid any kind of confrontation, even if it means isolating themselves from their colleagues. At the other end of the spectrum, poor leaders can fall into a trap of attempting to micro-manage or knit pick every move their employees make. This too is a sign of an inability to control a department since micro-managing hampers staff from doing the jobs they were hired to perform.
A leader must be able to comfortably face up to the customer or public on behalf of the business, address the needs of their staff by meeting with them openly and manage the many other circumstances that will inevitably arise. A person who cannot easily face up to the staff or customers will often fail as a manager. These individuals avoid those elements of the business that need their attention in order to stay in their safe “comfort zone”.
A leader communicates regularly with their staff, both individually and as a group. Their communication is respected and received well by others. Perhaps even more important, a leader creates a safe environment for others to feel emotionally safe (never blamed, criticized, or judged, not even subtly). This is an essential and absolute must to be an effective manager. A manager who does not adequately communicate to their staff, or who avoids communication with specific colleagues, opens the door to numerous problems. Managers, supervisors and staff need to be kept informed.
In summary, the success of your business depends on knowing the characteristics of good leadership. Often, these attributes are not expressly defined or even equally dispersed within a single individual. In many cases, one’s management skills will often develop organically and be honed over time from watching and learning from other exemplary leaders within the company. This applies even to ourselves. After all – we can all aspire to improve ourselves to become better leaders. And, in my opinion, “we are the leaders that we’ve been waiting for”.