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In his book, “Leaders Eat Last”, Simon Sinek shows why leaders who put the interests of their team and employees above their personal and organizational agendas are the ones who thrive and become successful.
The title of his book was inspired by how the US Marine Corps behave when they are about to eat:
Low-ranking cadets are served first while senior officers eat last.
This rule isn’t written in any of their rulebooks. They just started doing it out of their views on leadership.
Great leaders place the interests of their people before their own. By showing genuine care and respect for them, a leader gains their cooperation, trust, loyalty, and motivation in a natural way.
Michael Jordan once said:
“Earn your leadership every day”.
It serves as a reminder to leaders out there that respect and loyalty are not imposed unto others, it must be earned.
What is Leadership?
It’s the act of leading and guiding a group towards a specific goal. Like a ship captain, a leader sets the course and leads his crew towards their destination.
He gives each person on board a specific task to do, and his job is to make sure all these tasks work in harmony towards one goal: to safely reach their destination.
Related: 10 Sure-Fire Ways to Get Promoted at Work Fast
Importance of Leadership Skills?
Having the right set of skills to lead a group of people, a company, or organization is critical towards the success of its endeavor.
A company may have all the necessary tools, talent, and resources to operate but without the guidance of a good leader, it is almost always bound to fail.
Take, for example, a basketball team.
A team can be packed with superstar players but without a great coach (off-court leader) and a main man on the court (think Jordan, Johnson, Bird, Bryant, James) who leads the other guys, they will still fall to less-talented teams lead by a great player and a solid coach.
The success of a team relies on several factors.
And the most important thing is to make sure all those factors are met. It’s the leader’s job to establish each player’s tasks and actions clearly, so that every move is executed perfectly and in harmony with one another.
At the same time, he has to show them what it takes. He leads by example. He displays excellence with each move.
He inspires them. He looks after his people and makes sure they operate as a single unit.
A laser beam so focused it drills through any barrier with might and intensity.
“Teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting– Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski
Just like how a maestro conducts an orchestra, a leader guides and directs each person and action towards achieving a common goal.
14 Qualities and Characteristics of a Good Leader
1. Honest and displays integrity
“Build a culture that rewards—not punishes—people for getting problems into the open where they can be solved.”― Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
Transparency is one trait that isn’t practiced much in organizations.
Too often, management hides its workings behind curtains, scared that its employees might see through the incompetence or problems that the company might be experiencing.
It’s the classic case of keeping people in the dark because we either don’t want them to know about something or afraid to make them scared of any trouble brewing.
An effective leader takes the opposite mindset and understands that radical honesty is essential in keeping everyone on the same page.
Everyone gets a sense of where the boat is heading.
By showing that you have nothing to hide, you’re promoting an atmosphere of transparency which will inspire your team to do the same.
So what will happen if you keep your team and employees in the dark?
I’ll use good ol’ Popoy and Basha’s story to explain (saw my wife watching it the other day).
In the movie, “A Second Chance” Popoy (John Lloyd) never told his wife, Basha (Bea) about the financial problems that their company is having.
Even when they were almost bankrupt, he kept mum about it. Never discussed anything with his employees. He tried to show them that everything was A-OK.
But as the secret spilled out, not only did he lose Basha’s trust, he almost lost the entire company too. His employees rushed to the door upon knowing about the financial hell hole they’re in.
Everybody left, save for one intern.
The fact is, even if lying was done with good intentions, feelings will still eventually get hurt and trust will be broken.
In the end, you’ll be hit in the face with the very thing you’ve been trying to avoid: losing your people and the company itself.
Sure, being honest about things is not easy. It’s always a pain to deal with difficult conversations.
As management expert, Ben Horowitz said, “That’s the hard thing about hard things.”
But remember, you’re the leader. They look at you for guidance. They will listen. You’re in the best position to tell them about it.
So just do it. Whatever happens next, you can rest your mind in the fact that you remained true and honest to your people. And they will respect you for that.
2. Able to inspire and motivate others
The best leaders are the ones who effortlessly inspire action and loyalty from their people.
When we see someone on TV doing a worthy cause for others, we feel compassion and generate positive feelings towards that person. And if it’s an endeavor we strongly connect with, we almost feel the need to get up and support that person’s case.
We’re triggered—in a positive way. These are leaders who show up and do the work. They lead by example, not words.
Related: 100+ Inspirational & Motivational Quotes for Work, Life, and Success
3. One team, one mission
A team’s mission should be the one thing that occupies a leader’s mind and spirit.
“Yes!” should be the only answer when they ask themselves at the end of the day, “Did we move the project forward? Did we do something today that moved us closer to our goals?
However, remember that you work with others and they need guidance and support too in order to function at their best.
Everyone has their own stuff to deal with. People are not automatons. They have feelings, they have needs. Some have issues.
Some complain. And all these need to be dealt with swiftly and accordingly if the whole group is to make some progress. And it’s the leader’s job to address these.
A great leader should know how to manage the delicate balance between managing the crew and steering the ship towards the destination.
4. Knows how to communicate well
We are in hell right now, gentlemen, believe me.— Al Pacino, “Any Given Sunday”
And we can stay here and get the shit kicked out of us.
Or we can fight our way back into the light.
We can climb out of hell.
One inch, at a time.
Abraham Lincoln. Martin Luther King Jr. Barack Obama. The Dalai Lama. Nelson Mandela. Winston Churchill.
What do all these leaders have in common? That’s right—they are amazing communicators. The best of the best.
Whether it’s a personal conversation or a public declamation, these icons knew how to communicate their thoughts and ideas with intelligence, respect, and empathy.
One of the top skills a leader should teach himself is the art of communicating well.
Why? Because a leader’s skills, talents, and wisdom will be rendered useless if he’s not able to express himself clearly and convincingly.
Do you think MLK Jr’s “I have a Dream” speech will be as convincing if he didn’t say it with the same level of passion, clarity, and impact?
Or what if the Dalai Lama was afraid of public speaking? How will his wisdom and teachings reach the millions of people who want to hear it?
If you haven’t heard the guy deliver a talk, I recommend you check it out. For a spiritual person, he’s very warm and funny. And that makes his talks so much more engaging and fun to listen to.
The late Steve Jobs was known for his showmanship when it came to unveiling the latest Apple products.
The annual Apple event was so popular back then it drew thousands of live spectators and millions of viewers online.
Nowadays, current Apple CEO Tim Cook still does a decent job spearheading the event every year.
However, it no longer has the same magic and excitement as before.
Jobs’ ability to communicate and speak well was one of his best traits. And it’s what he used to motivate his people and persuade consumers into supporting Apple.
This quote from Chris Anderson, the man behind TED Talks, perfectly summarizes why Jobs’ communication skills were crucial to the success of Apple’s products:
“As a leader–or as an advocate–public speaking is the key to unlocking empathy, stirring excitement, sharing knowledge and insights, and promoting a shared dream.”
5. Balanced and fair
As a leader, you will be tasked to make a decision on a lot of issues. Sometimes, it will involve passing judgment on the members of your own team.
When it comes to employee-to-employee disputes, for example, your decision should be based on facts and credibility, not on who you favor more as a person.
People can see through our actions. They’ll know if you’re being fair or not. If they sense you’re not being fair, you’ll risk losing their trust and loyalty.
In their heads their thinking, “It doesn’t matter if you’re doing a good job here. It’s still all about politics after all.”
And when they start acquiring that belief, expect two things to happen:
First, they would stop doing their best work. Why would they? They won’t be recognized for it.
What’s the use of giving your best if your superiors are always favoring only the people they like?
Or they could just leave. There’s no sense in staying. They know your ship is bound to sink with all the unprofessionalism and mediocrity.
As a leader, you always have to take the neutral side. Be impartial. Recognize and reward those who do good work and help those who are struggling.
Those being lazy and toxic deserve the ax. If you don’t remove the rotten tomatoes, you’ll risk losing the good ones.
6. Accountable for their actions
A great leader never passes blame to others. She is accountable for her decisions and actions.
Because if the leader themselves are always making excuses, what message do you think are they passing to their subordinates?
To me, honoring the agreement that you made is the best definition of being accountable.
It’s the willingness to answer for your actions, decisions, and choices.
In Filipino, we often hear the phrase, “Ginusto mo yan e”. It echoes the concept of what being accountable means.
More importantly though, being accountable as a leader will build a culture where each person is held responsible for their actions.
It shifts everyone’s perspective from a victim mentality to pro-activity.
The 33rd U.S. President, Harry S. Truman popularized the phrase, “The buck stops here”.
What does it mean? He wants people to know that as a President, he has to make decisions and accepts full responsibility for them.
When your people pick up on this, they’ll be inspired by your mentality and be accountable themselves.
It’s a leader’s dream to have people who work at their best simply because they hold themselves accountable for their actions. And in doing so, the quality of everyone’s work is improved.
7. Knows how to delegate and empower
There are 3 reasons why leaders should know how and when to pass on the responsibility to others:
- It allows the leader to get some work off his or her plate and focus effort towards expansion and other more important tasks
- It builds a culture of trust and empowers their subordinates to take on more demanding and meaningful task. It will help them take on bigger and more important roles, allowing them to “level-up” and acquire more skills.
- It avoids micromanagement, where each move a person makes is tracked and managed by the leader. It’s bad because you’re showing you don’t trust the person’s capabilities while also taking most of your time and energy. Resources that could be put to more important leadership tasks. It prevents your subordinates from thinking, “Ayaw ipagawa sakin ni boss e, baka di ko daw kaya”. Or this one, “Lagi na lang pinapakialaman ni boss trabaho ko kahit wala naman mali sa ginagawa ko.”
Not something that you’d like to hear from your employees, right?
Related: 35 Powerful Time Management Tips that Work
8. Fosters creativity and innovation
Ever wonder how Google became one of the best companies in the world?
The answer: They built a culture that promotes both creativity and innovation. A place where anyone can openly make suggestions and feedback without the fear of being ridiculed.
This increased interaction and engagement produces plenty of awesome ideas that could increase productivity, profits, and even the overall well-being of the employees.
9. Knows how to empathize
The best leaders aren’t the ones shrouded by enigma.
Not the ones who always seem to talk from a higher place. The best ones are the leaders who know their employees well and genuinely cares.
Empathy is a term that gets thrown around a lot. But what does it mean exactly?
It’s the ability to truly understand and share feelings of another person.
Why do this? At its core, it’s all about building trust. To quote the author Simon Sinek once more:
“These little considerations for others have a building effect. The daily practice of putting the well-being of others first has a compounding and reciprocal effect in relationships. ”
Knowing what exactly each person is going through allows you to understand what troubles them. In the process, you’ll be able to identify how to help them.
Leaders who bark orders to their employees might get them moving right away, but that relationship exists out of “because you’re the boss” mindset and not of genuine willingness to contribute for the greater whole.
In the long run, those who lead with empathy has a vastly better chance of taking the company to the next level. This is because these leaders encourage openness.
People won’t be afraid to be truly honest. They will be motivated because they have a boss who is willing to go the distance with them.
A leader needs to believe in himself before he can convince anyone to believe him.
It’s like building a house. It may look like a normal house from the outside. But without the proper foundation, it will crumble amidst external forces easily.
Say you’re speaking with a salesman and asked him to demonstrate his products. You notice his voice is trembling and his hands shaky. Clearly, he’s nervous.
He sounds as if he’s not sure what he’s doing. You can’t help but doubt his credibility. In turn, you end up doubting his product’s credibility.
Have you ever had an indecisive boss? Maybe someone who’s always not sure what to do next?
If you have, let me ask you, “Would you entrust your future and livelihood with that person?”
No, I didn’t think so.
Effective leaders need to display confidence in their words, decisions, and their actions. People need to feel that the person leading them knows what he’s doing.
Can you imagine riding a ship being led by a captain who looks as if it’s his first time to set sail?
Learn More: How to be Confident: 16 Tips & Hacks to Boost Self-Esteem
11. Has a “Can-do” attitude
“Yes, we can” was Obama’s famous campaign slogan. He rallied behind these words, offering Americans a chance to experience a true, positive change.
Like a true leader, he motivated followers and convinced non-believers as well by conveying a “Can-do” spirit—a steadfast belief that anything can be achieved through togetherness and solidarity.
As a leader, showing your people that you are a person of courage inspires them to do the same.
Instead of merely reacting to problems, you’re always looking for the next step.
“What can we do about it? How will we fix it? How can I help?” These are words of a true leader.
He acknowledges the issues but has his eyes set towards fixing them.
A can-do attitude is a mark of a person willing to take on bold steps to carry his people to the next level.
Instead of being afraid and playing it safe, he takes on new challenges and strives to always push forward to be better.
12. Focused and driven
“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill.
I will not be outworked, period.
You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things — you got it on me in nine categories.
But if we get on the treadmill together, there are two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple…”
-Oscar-nominated actor and Grammy award-winning musician Will Smith
13. Flexible and Responsive
“Pivot” is a popular term among start-up companies. It refers to the ability to change directions and goals if another path proves to be more ideal.
It’s about responding to challenges in the most efficient and effective way possible.
For example, if a software company realizes that their flagship program isn’t getting the traction they expected, perhaps they can check out all other possible options and switch to a new path where the potential to succeed is better.
And it’s not only in company direction should a leader be flexible.
Managing people and dealing with the daily operation requires lots of creative thinking and problem-solving.
This requires a growth mindset, a philosophy not bound on steadfast visions.
Rather, it demands resourcefulness and mind-agility in order to push the company forward.
14. Has great decision-making skills
The ability to take the helm and make decisions both big and small rests mainly on the shoulders of the leader.
Using their wisdom and experience, they weigh in all options available in order to make the best possible decision.
Not all decisions will be right, and some can dramatically affect the course of the entire company.
That’s why it’s important that the leader has the necessary skills, mindset, experience, and wisdom to carry out the best possible judgment.
It’s like a coach calling out the last play in a tied basketball game. It’s up to him if he can make the right call. It will tell the difference between winning or losing.
The 6 Essential Leadership Skills
What skills does a leader need to become effective? What does it take to become someone who gains the loyalty and respect of the people?
A study conducted by consulting firm Hay/McBer used a random sample of 3,781 executives in order to determine which skills and traits are the most common among the best leaders.
The results revealed that there are essentially 6 leadership styles that represent a mix of skills and emotional IQ.
Each one works from different emotional intelligence level and has its own strengths and weakness.
For maximum positive results, leaders are advised to master these styles and apply them as needed.
Just like a pro golfer, he uses an array of golf clubs to match the shot that he has to make.
Ultimately, the best leaders are the ones who can switch among these different skills and leadership types in order to deal with the situation.
1. The Coercive Style
When I say jump, you say “How high?”.
This style is effective if you need to make decisions on very urgent matters. For example, responding to a disaster or emergency. Fixing an issue with employees.
However, use this only when necessary as it tends to hinder growth and affects employees motivation.
2. The Authoritative style
This leadership style is about being firm yet open to feedback and suggestions.
She has a firm grasp of their goals yet still doesn’t command others to blindly follow her. She welcomes ideas and applies them as she sees fit.
3. The Affiliative Style
“People first” is the motto of this leader. This style works best in building team morale.
This leader inspires and motivates her people and looks for ways to keep a harmonious working environment. However, it’s important to not focus exclusively on praise.
4. The Democratic Style
These leaders build organizational flexibility and easily generates tons of ideas for growth.
Perfect style if you have high achieving employees who are highly motivated and driven.
5. The Pacesetting style
A leader who is a high-achiever herself and demands the same from her people.
With the right culture and mindset, the company is in a prime position to flourish and thrive.
However, there’s a thin line between being an inspirational leader who works hard to excel and a demanding one who always takes over situations.
6. The Coaching Style
This style puts great focus on helping and developing employees. Perfect for improving the overall skill set and capabilities of the subordinates.
However, might not be as effective if they already have a firm grasp of the work and do not need further hand-holding.
10 Tips on How to Become a Better Leader
1. Put people first before profit and personal agendas
Always act on your people’s interest first before your own. Set an example. Cultivate a culture of being selfless and one that focuses on togetherness.
2. Use empathy
Learn the business of conversing with people through sincerity and honesty. Learn how to truly listen.
Observe their actions and always check with them if everything is OK.
3. Treat your people with respect and dignity
No one is above anyone, not even the leader. Treat everyone as equals, respect their strengths and weaknesses.
Never embarrass them in front of others. Be considerate with both your words and actions.
4. We not me
As cliche as it sounds, it’s still worth mentioning: “There is no I in team”. As an old African saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”
5. Make your team feel safe and secured
Nothing makes employees and teams lose focus and motivation faster than feelings of uncertainty and lack of stability.
It’s normal. You wouldn’t be able to focus on anything if something is nagging your mind.
As a leader, it’s your job to get them into the right mindset for work. And to do this, you have to address their worries and make them feel that they’re taken care of.
6. Show not tell
How do you get people to act? By showing them how you want it done. Do the work yourself, show them what it takes.
The most effective leaders are the ones willing to give their all for the sake of the whole endeavor.
Mahatma Gandhi led an entire country not with words, but with action. Leading by example is the best way to inspire others.
Related: Productivity Hacks: How to become productive at Work & Life
7. Get face-to-face with your people
Ask them what their problems are, ask them for feedback. Visit them at their workstations, converse with them face to face.
This will give them the impression that you’re one of them, not some boss who barks orders from his high chair.
8. Show them why they matter
Show them proof/photos of the people they are able to help by doing their jobs. Tell them how their work positively affects the lives of others.
During times of trouble and when morale is low, reminding them of their significance and importance will motivate them to push forward.
9. It’s not always about the money (volunteer your time and energy)
In movies, we often see villains say, “I’m only here for the money”. The only reason they’re teaming up for the job is to get paid.
Nobody cares about each other. No one gives an actual damn why and what they are doing. They just want to get paid.
In most cases, they even go after each other’s throats and money. Not a pretty sight, isn’t it?
Now imagine applying the same strategy to your team. “The first one to finish will get a bonus!” Suddenly, everybody treats the next person as a threat, an enemy bound to take the precious prize away from them.
How’s that for team spirit?
Once I heard my boss said, “Pag
While he said that in jest, there’s some grain of hard truth there. That once you start “training” people to work only with the promise of a reward, you will lose their cooperation when there’s nothing in it for them.
That’s the thing about money and rewards in general. While it may serve as a motivator for action, the actual deeper “why” is lost in the process.
Volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, for example, come from all walks of life. Their “why” is to help others build a place they can call home.
No amount of monetary reward can replace that feeling of joy and sense of fulfillment in helping your fellow man.
10. Be open to criticism and feedback
A culture of openness encourages honest opinions and constructive feedback. Do not bark at your people if they don’t readily agree with your ideas.
If you do that, you’ll be shutting yourself and the organization from a whole bunch of potential bright ideas that could bring forth much efficiency, revenue, and improvement in the company.
Lao Tzu once said: “To lead people, walk behind them.”
A reminder that a leader’s job is not to command. Rather, it’s to understand your people and adapt to the challenges that will come along the way. To respect and take care of your people, without losing sight of the goal.
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