I learned early on in my business management career not to confuse management with leadership. Yes, leaders need to possess strong management skills, but true leaders go a step beyond overseeing activities and people. The fact is the world is full of good managers, but it’s light on good leaders.
What are the characteristics of a true leader? There are many opinions, but in my experience, three qualities define a person meant to lead:
- Leaders listen. The tendency is for people to lead by telling and taking action. That’s important but you also have to listen to what is going on in the organization. In my view, listening is the most important thing a leader can do. Listen to your employees and your own key leaders to understand what’s driving them. Then put the pieces of what you’ve learned together to get a sense of what is working, what is not working, and where the opportunities are.
- Leaders inspire. A leader motivates people to perform at a level they otherwise wouldn’t have reached. People fundamentally want to be part of a winning team and will work very hard to do that. Why? Because it feels good to win. A leader provides the vision and purpose that people will buy into intellectually, but more importantly, emotionally.
- Leaders truly care. It’s not enough to go through the motions and act like you care when you really don’t. People can see right through that. Leaders have passion for what they want to accomplish and genuinely care about the people on their team.
Leadership at its best
A good friend of mine just changed jobs and is now working for an electrical subcontractor. In this new company, they value working together to solve a problem. When he goes into the field to deal with issues they say “we’re glad you came out here.” They do barbecues and other company events, not because it’s an expected function but because they really care about the quality of working relationships and work-life balance. The company’s leadership has created a culture that makes each individual feel valued.
Ultimately, leadership is not just about words, it’s not just about action. It’s about building a culture. Unfortunately, many people who start a business lack the skill to scale their personal success into a company culture for success.
Especially with today’s shortage of qualified workers, building a culture that listens, inspires, and truly values each and every individual is important—unless you want people to depart for a few bucks. I’ve heard of construction companies doing some crazy things to recruit people. To keep your best employees, your leaders need to focus on building a culture where people feel that their work and creativity actually make a difference.
Now is the time to lead.