A lot has been written about leaders and what qualities they should exhibit. It’s a popular topic because of its importance. These are the people who tend to get promoted at organizations, rising through the ranks. They’re part of your succession plan. They’re also people you ask to help communicate information. In addition, many of the core skills of leadership can’t be trained in the workplace – they exist in a person or they don’t.
What’s a leader?
Often, people get manager and leader confused, thinking that if you have subordinates or a team, you must be a leader. But leaders don’t necessarily have any direct reports at all.
Leaders can be from any background, age, race, build, and gender. They stand out because they care about the organization and helping it succeed.
There may be some additional traits based on your company’s culture, brand, and values, about who’s a leader at your organization. At innovative companies, leaders may be the people who always have creative ideas and like sharing them with others. At organizations that care about each other, like healthcare, leaders may be the nurturers.
We’ve reviewed various lists and distilled the traits down to the essentials. These are the four qualities we believe leaders should have, no matter what organization or company you’re from:
1. Leaders communicate
The best leaders understand the importance of communication and make time for it. They don’t choose just one channel – they’ll comment on the intranet, meet with individuals, and hold project or team meetings.
They communicate with lots of different people, too, not just peers, employees, supervisors, or the community. Why? They genuinely like people and are naturally curious, even if introverted. They want to connect with others. It’s almost as if you can’t stop them from communicating.
More than communicating themselves, they listen. In fact, they actively listen to others, which is why people trust them. Leaders understand the importance of non-verbal communication such as smiling, patting people on the back, making eye contact, etc.
Because they like to communicate, they know what’s happening in your organization. In fact, they’re the first to know.
2. Leaders build networks because they care about others
Leaders aren’t the type to enter some networking event and come out with a stack of business cards. Instead, they build their network through their connections, including helping people from fellow co-workers to people in the neighborhood.
They like to volunteer and are often seen giving their time and money away to causes that matter. In fact, their mantra is that they want everyone to succeed and are looking for opportunities to make that happen. Connecting people and missions is something they excel at.
Because leaders want to help others and organizations, people and organizations generally want to help them. They don’t have to call in favors; people go out of their way to help them, too.
3. Leaders are empathetic
Leaders are people who recognize and understand the emotions of others, including those non-verbal cues. It’s not difficult for them to imagine how others must think or feel; they know it intuitively.
They show it, too, and they’re not afraid to care openly. They worry when colleagues give them bad news and smile when a team meets a milestone.
Their empathy is why they volunteer, care about others, and make connections.
4. Leaders have confident wisdom
Some believe there’s a confidence gap among women as they’re less likely to brag or exaggerate about their experience. Whether or not that’s true doesn’t matter. True leaders are humble. They don’t need to brag; others brag about them.
Here’s the distinction – leaders are confidently wise. What does that mean? They understand their limits and know who to go to for help as well as how to mobilize that help. Knowing who to talk with and how they can help is better than knowing everything. Leaders understand these people in their network being mobilized will learn skills and provide strengths to make the project better.
In general, leaders are the people at your organization who people admire. They know what’s happening, have connections across the organization, and maintain an excellent reputation. They’re known as people who embody success because they help others succeed, including the organization.
If you’re one of these people with these traits, congratulations! Your organization needs more of you. Step up, don’t be shy, and be counted. Good things await.
How to build the leadership pipeline
Every leader has different levels of the skills provided above – from empathy to confident wisdom. For example, some leaders may be more empathetic than confident. Some leaders may be better communicators than genuine networkers.
Here are a few ways to help build and strengthen on natural leadership skills:
- Mentor and coach. If you don’t have a mentorship program, introduce one and focus on your leadership pipeline. Many of these leadership traits can’t be trained, but can be coached.
- Recognize achievement, including who your leaders are, through news, meetings and your intranet.
- Gather them to meet with themselves and executives.
- Reward them if you can – through vacations, money, luncheons with co-workers, and promotions. Let them know what you think they can accomplish long-term, especially if your industry or organization has high turnover.
- Add traits to their specific employee reviews, if you have them, that also rewards for strengthening these core skills.
- Offer them a place to communicate and exchange ideas online, on your intranet.
- Train them in the everything else you need: brand, business and financial acumen, legal and compliance constraints, etc.
By understanding who your leaders are and how you can continue to build that pipeline, to feed your succession plan, you’re helping your organization now and in the long term to be successful. You’re also helping leaders who may be too modest to step up and demand attention by entrusting them with coaching and information.
Need a place to recognize and inform leaders? We have modern intranets that recognize leadership as well as give them a place to exchange ideas and information, real-time. We also have ideas about mentoring and training programs to help.