One of the biggest questions that gets posed to business experts quite frequently is.. What makes a true leader? There are probably more answers and opinions to this question than the question of “What is the meaning of Life?” After 25 years of leading various types of teams and people (and a tremendous amount of trial and error), I have formed my formulated my own list of 5 key traits of a true leader. Just because you are the head of something, a team, a company, a department, an organization or even a family does not entitle you to the title of leader. True leaders are:
1. Authentically Transparent Being authentically transparent means that leaders let their teams, customers, vendors, and stakeholders get to know who they are, how they operate and what makes them tick. True leaders have no hidden agendas and aware of their own humanity. “Authentically transparent” can be viewed as simply acting with integrity and honesty and yet I believe it is so much more. Authentic transparency requires sharing with others what is important to you personally and professionally. It requires having the courage to communicate openly and candidly about how and why you make decisions and take certain actions. Consistency is also another key in being authentically transparent.
2. Innovators Innovators often makes the list of top leadership traits in many of the experts’ lists. However, my definition of innovators is slightly different. An innovator is someone who is not satisfied with the status quo. They question every action, decision, process and policy with a child-like curiosity. Innovators are open to seeing through the eyes of other important parties like their employees, customers, peers and even perceived competitors. Last and certainly not least innovators are willing, ready and able to let go of old and outdated practices and replace them with new and improved versions.
3. Accessible True leaders are accessible in mind, body and spirit. They are open and fully present to every situation and person in which or with whom they engage. In doing so, true leaders operate with an open mind and heart and are not attached to their own beliefs, opinions and ways of operating. Being accessible also means the leaders interacts with all levels of their organization regardless of job title or function. True leaders knows that no one person is any more important than another in the effectiveness of their department or business.
4.‘Reinforcers” True leaders are “reinforcers” not enforcers. They understand their role is to support and strengthen not to dictate and control. Leaders reinforce by setting and resetting expectations about the desired outcomes they want to achieve. With these outcomes clearly communicated, true leaders expect greatness and good things from each of their team members. And true leaders understand that people and situations require different reinforcement methods, positive and negative to achieve outstanding results.
5. Role Models In my opinion, this is the most important trait of a leader and it is the one that is most often ignored or misunderstood. Unfortunately, many leaders have the attitude do what I say and not what I do. True leaders understand that this view is quite frankly … crap. The best way that I know how to lead and get outstanding results is by example. Being the role model means that you set the same standards for your teams as you do for yourself. On other words, no double standards. Then you let your actions speak louder than words. True leaders actions are consistent to a T with what comes out of their mouths. Finally, true leaders model and exhibit the passion, dedication, commitment and energy that they would like to see out of their team members.
Being a true leader requires a willingness and desire to improve yourself for the good of others. It is not hard, it just takes hard work and dedication.