Using a broad definition, a leader is someone who someone else follows. A leader can be in charge of a variety of units to include: a team, a business, a small group, or an organization. A leader can have an assortment of position titles such as: supervisor, teacher, CEO, General, Governor or President. There are leaders all around us. There are even some people who believe they are leaders, but when we look behind them-there is no one following! What traits make a leader so effective that others follow?
The five C’s for leaders are easy to remember and are traits, skills, or abilities that every leader needs-whether their unit is large or small.
Commitment to the Mission: Employees promoted to managerial positions are often technically strong and demonstrate a commitment to the mission, whatever that mission is. These skills are important, but if you want to transition from a manager to a leader others follow-the people aspect is critical. Employees follow a leader who demonstrates dedication to the mission and to those who perform the mission. A leader who works hard, and works with and for the employees, appeals to most employees from Baby Boomers to Generation Y.
Core Values: Everyone has values that they live by. As a leader, think about the values you hold most dear and make them the core of your character. All of us respect leaders who live their values, and we naturally follow people we respect. Values like honesty, integrity, and empathy do matter. A president who is honest and transparent when delivering tough news, a supervisor who takes the hit for the unit when something goes wrong, or a boss who shows understanding to employees during lean times, will be more successful than one who lies, blames, and steps on others to get ahead. We have all had the great supervisor and the hated supervisor. Think of the best and the worst boss you ever worked for – the values they first displayed and the shady or self-serving behavior of the second – which one were you truly following?
Communication: One trait common to outstanding leaders is the ability to communicate a vision. As a leader it isn’t enough for you to know where the team is going – you have to tell them! Explain where you are all headed clearly and concisely and you will inspire others to follow. Some charismatic individuals are naturals at this but most of us are not. We can learn and we can practice. Think about your vision for the group, write it down, and develop your communication skills by sharing this vision often.
Sometimes you have to communicate negative information, as the boss the unpleasant tasks fall to you. Sometimes you get to congratulate someone, as the boss the pleasant tasks fall to you, too. Think of these as opportunities to practice your communications skills. A great rule of thumb is “criticize in private, praise in public.”
Without listening there is no communication. Closing your mouth and opening your ears can be valuable to you as a leader and to the group you lead. Listen for ideas, listen for problems, listen for good news to share and listen to learn.
Calmness: Being a leader can be exhausting. With downsizing, funding issues, doing more with less, a leader may have more on his or her plate than ever before. Days fly by and the task list is never complete at home or at work. This can cause a “house on fire” mentality but everyone is looking to the leader for a sense of calm. How can you achieve that calm demeanor and persona? The best leaders carve out some time for themselves despite the craziness. Have lunch with your friends occasionally, exercise consistently, try to eat healthy-body sustaining foods, pursue knowledge, take vacations and make time for your families. Take a few moments during the workday to just breath deeply – you’ll be amazed at how much calmer you will feel. Spending time making sure that you are a whole, healthy, content person will make you a better, calmer and happier leader.
Courage: It takes courage to be a leader. You have to fight battles for your group, solve problems within the group, and come up with creative ideas; you are often criticized (not necessarily in private) by both those above you and your subordinates. Everyone is looking to you for guidance – or to blame – when things go wrong, and it’s also your job to throw the party when things go right. Taking on the leadership role is a brave step and daring to become all that you can become as a leader is courageous.
When we were children and planning our futures, most of us never considered that we would grow up to be leaders. As our careers and our knowledge bases evolved, we were thrust into leadership roles often without any training. As a leader you can mature and become more effective as you grow into your leadership role. Keep the five Cs in mind: Commitment, Core Values, Communication, Calmness and Courage, and you will be a leader people follow!
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