What makes for strong leadership? We all know it when we see it; the trick is to articulate what the key ingredients are. Here are 10 key elements that I believe form the common denominator among successful leaders in any industry.
Leaders are made, not born. Leadership is learned just like other skills, but only if you invest the time and effort. Managing and leading are not the same thing. Being a good manager is not, on its own, a guarantee that someone will become a good leader.
Leaders must walk the talk. Leaders not only make the rules, they must follow those rules. This is harder than you think. Take sales, for example. Most business leaders are good salespeople, and good salespeople often break the rules. But you earn your team's heightened respect when you make a deliberate effort to creatively accomplish your goals without violating or corrupting policies you put into place.
Leaders cultivate trust. But good leaders know that trust is not a right. It must be earned through honesty and consistency; by being proactive, not reactive, in looking out for everyone's interest; and by keeping promises.
Leaders continually invest in their people. It takes time to see a proper return on the expense of recruiting, interviewing, and training personnel. A poor leader looks for short-term results and often stops spending on human resources if financial returns are slow to appear. A great leader continually invests, monitors, motivates, and trains, knowing that the returns will be there eventually.
Leaders set realistic expectations. An organization is healthier when its goals — for sales, production, client satisfaction, and so on — are attainable. Employees experience less stress and make better decisions in this type of environment.
Leaders set objective standards. They understand the value of performance goals that can be quantified, like sales, margin, and budgets. They know what their company's numbers are and what they should be.
Leaders monitor progress. They establish systems to measure actual performance against stated goals, then check progress regularly. Regular monitoring enables leaders to make minor tweaks that keep the company's plan on course.
Leaders have vision. Leaders know where their organization is headed, and they constantly communicate that vision to their team. If the vision is strong enough, a good leader can delegate its implementation without having to micromanage the details.
Leaders find good teachers. Like top athletes, leaders find coaches and mentors to help them and everyone on their team reach ever higher levels of performance. Good leaders look both within and outside their organizations for people to fill those roles.
Leaders take responsibility for poor performance. They understand that most underperforming employees are the product of a poor hiring decision or poor training. Most managers retain underperforming employees too long because they set unrealistic expectations and lack objective ways to evaluate performance. Good leaders understand that retaining an employee under these circumstances works against the employee's interest as well as the company's.
Rank yourself against these 10 criteria. If you score much lower on certain qualities, create an action plan to raise the bar. Leadership is a mastery process, and you will always be working to reach the next level. — Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md., and the author of 30-Day Remodeling Fitness Program. He can be reached at 301.229.4600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.