Good leader, charisma.
Words that fit perfectly together. Or not necessarily? When I started working on this article, I allowed myself a few minutes to think about the great leaders I've met in my professional life. And as I went with this empirical process I realise several specificities that all these leaders have in common. That, is what I'm going to share with you.
Before jumping right into things, though, I would like to break two clichés that even I had about good leaders.
The first cliché is: being a good leader requires to be an extrovert. To make the corollary between charisma and extroversion is tempting. After all, it's true that extroverts often appear like they are more comfortable with people. But it's wrong. I have several examples in mind of good leaders who are either extrovert or introvert.
The second cliché I want to break is: being a good leader is mostly about being gifted for the task. Even though I can't deny psychology and social studies on the topic, I strongly affirm that leadership and management can be taught. Although it obviously asks for both learnable knowledge and experience to become good at it.
A few words about authority, expertise and knowledge
Does a field expert inevitably make a good leader?
Does a good leader have to be a field expert?
These are good yet wide questions.
What we can say, without going off-topic too much, is that they at least have something in common. Both of them need and have authority. The field expert conquered it through his high level of expertise in specific topics, while the leader mostly becomes legitimate through his attitude and interpersonal skills.
For a good leader, having the matching field expertise is a plus. It will probably spare him the effort of trying to make himself recognised as a leader. But I wouldn't say detailed field knowledge is a requirement.
How to spot a good leader
While the definition of a good leader may vary (mostly because of the subjectivity induced by the adjective good), we could probably agree on the following:
A good leader is a person people follow with trust and confidence. She is someone who inspires, motivates and enables the people following her.
To me, "enabling the people" that's the core mission of a great leader. Inspire them, show them the way and help them understand the why.
Now, let's talk about some key techniques you can focus on in order to become better at guiding people.
A clear message, expressed clearly
Good leaders are heard because they do what is necessary to get understood.
They begin with having a clear message to deliver. Leaders draw the big picture prior to entering the details. They respect a certain order when expressing themselves and explain the roots of things before entering into execution details. That's how they manage to reduce friction.
They create cohesion before talking about what can be cleaving.
Experienced leaders do everything in their power to reduce the risk of misinterpretation.
Lastly, they carefully choose their words in order to inspire and give sense to the idea they express. They know that the message catapults the action. Words picked poorly will produce poor results while epic speeches will empower your audience.
Have you noticed? A good leader seems to know you
For a reason: they spend time understanding their followers.
Like any other communicant, they need to understand the people they are addressing. That's how they are then able to select the perfect metaphor and deliver the right message at the right time.
If you want to improve your leadership, get better at listening.
You have to understand what's stopping people from doing things, what kind of communication favours idea assimilation, what triggers their creativity and what inspires them.
Some important traits and specificities
I would like to end this article with three traits, beyond the ones that normally pop up when discussing the characteristics of a good leader, and that we usually don't think about.
The following behaviours you can definitively start improving today if you want to improve your leadership!
As a leader, you ask people to follow your lead, and put their trust in you. Great leaders work everyday to preserve this accorded faith. One of the first rules I've noticed in every good leader I've met, is the following:
They are guides and they always show the same north.
If you want to raise your game in leadership, you have to get even better at being constant. Nobody wants to follow someone who changes directions too often. That's an open gate to doubt and fear. All of which, as a leader, you apply yourself to make disappear.
Good leaders treat people well and with respect. Remember what we said about enabling people?
You can't be a good listener and a good leader if benevolence isn't your principal trait.
People have to know they can share with you. That's the only way to truly understand and be able to touch them with your words.
carefully picked surroundings
Creating adhesion is an extremely challenging task and the composition of your audience or team can determine the success or the failure of your action.
Great leaders know this and surround themselves with enthusiasts and other leaders. Creating an encouraging and positive circle around you will make it much easier to rally a group to your cause.
There are tools you can use and skills you can learn. But leading mostly requires attitude and will, and it will only get better with experience.
If you want to improve your leadership, begin with working hard to understand the people you want to lead and gain their trust.