Leadership is putting a face to management science. A good leader is an able manager. And an able manager is someone who can recruit, hire, train, and mentor. He or she is someone who can motivate, engage, and monitor. And he or she has the ability to envision, plan, clarify, evaluate, and revise.
Unfortunately, this is not what many leaders do. They are more focused on disciplining than directing, and more interested in rebuking than reinforcing. This preoccupation with acting more like a parent than a manager means that talent is not recognized, budgets go awry, and strategic alliances fail.
It takes courage to be a leader, and it takes unusual character and intelligence to be a good one.
With that in mind, here are a few things that good leaders do to keep an eye on their company and guide it in the right direction:
1. Good leaders get things done.
A leader makes sure that business processes work the way they should. They ensure that each department follows best practices so that all departments can work in harmony. They make sure that marketing efforts are producing enough leads and that sales managers are converting a reasonable percentage of these leads into sales. They know if the accounting department is lowering the company’s effective tax rate by using tax credits and incentives. They understand if Human Resources is hiring the right people, nurturing talent, and building an engaged workforce. All it takes is for a few business processes to go awry for a concatenation of problems to adversely affect a company.
2. Good leaders serve.
Service runs both ways. While employees are hired to manage the diverse tasks in a business, leaders also need to serve employees to do their work well. Leaders should remove obstacles, eliminate distractions, and remove excuses. They should source resources and streamline processes. By making it easier for talent to flourish, the entire company prospers.
3. Good leaders model character.
Leaders who fail to lead are usually weakened by some personal character flaw, and these could range from philandering to misogyny and from arrogance to indecisiveness. In a leadership role, all personal idiosyncrasies are magnified and affect how a company works. It’s not enough to pose as an alpha male leader or a woman leader who can be as intractable as a man; you have to go beyond posturing. Nobody respects leaders who lack courage and vision, who can’t focus on what needs to be done or endure setbacks. Posturing is a sham, and vain leaders can’t hope to fool all employees all the time.
4. Good leaders champion their people.
A leader who does not stand up for their employees or their customers, who buckles under pressure from the board of directors to take shortcuts and pursue quick profits over long-term growth, will not win respect. By championing people who have been treated with injustice or undeserved and by fighting for ideas worth developing, a leader develops clout.
5. Good leaders are knowledgeable and experienced.
While it’s almost impossible to be an expert in everything, from technology to tax codes, a good leader should know enough to be able to make informed decisions. Good leaders study. They do their homework; they don’t act out of ignorance or pass the buck. They aren’t technophobes or advocates of old school methodology. They know what’s going on in their company, their industry, and in the global marketplace. They may not be subject experts in a particular aspect of a business, but they know enough to recognize foolish ideas and choose a wise course of action.
6. Good leaders talk to their people.
It’s easy enough to hide behind a large desk in an isolated office, protected by a secretary and executing orders through senior managers, but good leaders are approachable and talk to their people. Sam Walton, for example, sat with truckers in break rooms to get a down-to-earth understanding of logistics. Ultimately, leadership is about paying attention—not only to the work that has to be done, but the people who are doing the work.
7. Good leaders are open minded.
A good leader is approachable, open, and receptive. He or she understands that change is the dynamic principle behind the universe. A fixed view of how markets work and business should run is dangerous. In a world of rapid innovation, it’s easy for a new company to become a market leader. Many leaders at the top corporations in the mobile phone market weren’t even aware that Steve Jobs’s iPhone was revolutionary enough to blow up the wireless industry. They thought the iPhone was more of a toy than a serious piece of communication technology. They were taken completely by surprise when Apple quickly assumed a dominant position in the marketplace.
Mastering Management Science
While many people aspire to be leaders, they don’t understand that it’s much more than simply taking charge of a company. There are innumerable aspects of big business that leaders need to monitor. Leadership by personality is often reckless. Good leadership calls for mastery of many aspects of management science.
When leadership fails, it’s because the role of leader is seen as the route to power and prestige, a way to squelch critics and favor supporters. Leaders who are in it for the glory are less interested in spreadsheets and more interested in distributing communiques.
Leaders who are in it for the purpose of helping grow others demonstrate these seven qualities consistently, and it shows.