The competencies and character traits that make one an effective leader are too many and too varied to compile on a single list. While there are as many ways to be an ineffective leader, this list of ten missing ingredients is a good start to what matters and why.
No Vision: A leader is responsible for the future. Creating that future requires a vision, as you cannot hit a target you cannot see. As a leader, you need to see the future, the obstacles, and what needs to change to make your vision a reality. You are responsible for change, and if what you were doing now would bring your vision to life, you’d already have achieved it. Without a vision, you cannot provide it to the rest of your team. When you “drift,” the company drifts.
No Drive: A leader wants. They are driven to achieve, to produce results. The vision and the drive provides power to the leader’s initiatives and the people in their charge. It infuses the organization with the will to take action and drives them. If you aren’t driven (as if by some invisible force), your people won’t be either. If you aren’t pushing forward, they won’t push forward with you. You are responsible for the motivation.
No Standards: The leader sets the standards. They decide what is good, and true, and beautiful. They also establish what is non-negotiable. The obvious non-negotiables are values, like integrity, which seem obvious but still need defending. Other non-negotiables aren’t as obvious but are just as necessary and equally deserving of a strong defense. What people do with their time, how they prioritize their initiatives and projects, and how certain things get done need to be aligned with the vision. Low standards—or worse, no standards—are how the vision is lost.
No Caring: The best leaders care. They care about their company, but they also care about the people in their charge. They expect both to grow while in their charge. The best leader you have ever had saw something inside you that you didn’t see in yourself. She helped you see what was invisible to you, and she pushed and prodded you to become something more than you were. To bring your vision to life, you need to lead your people in growth. Their capacity is the capacity of your organization. Without care, you will not unleash the creative power of your people, and your vision will be lost.
No Accountability: As a leader, you cannot bring your vision to life by yourself. You are accountable for bringing that vision to life, but your accountability has to cascade down to the people on your team, which then has to flow to the people on their team. If each person isn’t achieving the outcome they need to create, their failure becomes the failure of the person who leads them. Their failure rolls up to the leader one level up. It isn’t easy to build or maintain a culture of accountability, and once it’s lost, it is even more difficult to reclaim, often requiring a complete transformation. If there is no accountability, or if the accountability doesn’t cascade down, it is the leader’s fault.
No Communication: All of what is listed above this line must be communicated. The communication must be clear and unambiguous. It must also be delivered consistently. A lack of communication exposes the leader to lose the vision, the motivation, the standards, and the accountability. Nothing a leader says is true if they only say it once. If it isn’t constantly repeated, it will not become real. Every conversation must point back to the vision, the drive, the standards, and the accountabilities. If you do not consistently communicate these things, they will not matter.
No Will: A leader must be patient and persistent. As a leader, you will be tested. Some will attempt to wait you out, believing that you will eventually give up on your vision. Others will nibble around the edges of your standards, lowering them to make things easier. If allowed, many will avoid accountability, preferring not to accept responsibility for a goal or outcome. Every day, your will will be tested. There is no way for you to split the difference; either you establish the standards and insist on them, or you accept poor performance and sacrifice your vision.
No Decisions: Most of what a leader does shows up in their world as decisions. The refusal to make decisions, large or small, is to not lead. Some decisions are strategic and difficult to make when you lack perfect information. Avoiding the decision doesn’t improve things, and it postpones the results you need. Other decisions, difficult as they may be, are obvious and need to be taken sooner rather than later. It’s a form of negligence not to decide and act, and it prevents the rest of the group you lead from taking action or producing the result you need from them.
No Thinking: A leader needs to spend time thinking. They need to read, to pay attention to what is going on in the world, and what it means for them and the people and organization for which they are responsible. Thinking is demanding and difficult work, maybe the most difficult. One of the reasons it is difficult to make decisions is because you haven’t done the work to think it through. Good leaders spend time thinking, often alone with their thoughts. Poor leaders believe they know everything they need to know.
No Example: The leader is the example. The people in your charge are a reflection of you. They become what you are. If you embody all the things you want your organization to be, they will become that. If you aren’t the exemplar, they will lack a model. Or worse, their model will be someone who isn’t aligned with you or your vision. You must be excellent for your people to be excellent.
Like anything written in the negative, turn these around, and you have found a way to improve your leadership.
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