By Enda Larkin, Owner/Director at HTC Consulting
An appropriate time later, after the lotto draw was made, the waitress came over to the table and asked if anyone wanted to know that evening's winning numbers. She then proceeded to read them out aloud before setting the numbers down on the table. The boss looked at the numbers then casually pulled out his wallet and compared them. He went quiet, put his wallet back in his jacket pocket and sat down again breathing very rapidly, and looking totally blown away. After a couple of minutes he pulled out his wallet and Lotto ticket again, and checked the numbers once more, very carefully.
Then, he sculled his drink, stood up on his chair and shouted out to the whole room:
"I just want to let you all know something. I've been having an affair with my secretary for months. I don't like any of you, and I have hated working for this ****ing company. You can all go to Hell, 'coz I've just won a ****-load of money, and I'm leaving!"
A friend sent me this story by email some time back and it supposedly happened in Australia. True or not, it made me laugh and definitely brightened up the day a bit. And whether it actually occurred doesn't really matter in the end because in a light-hearted way, it simply helps to highlight the fact that some bosses get it so completely wrong, to the extent that their employees are only waiting for a chance to 'get' them. We have all had a boss at some point in our careers who we would have gladly have 'punked' in a similar way, if we could have done so.
Sure, the bad boss syndrome is nothing new, and it is a problem that needs addressing, but I think the 'good bosses' out there deserve more attention, so I thought for this article I would focus on the positive side of leadership. So, here are – and in no order of importance either – ten factors which I believe set the best leaders apart:
1. They exude energy & enthusiasm
Some people are akin to energy vampires; they can suck the life out of you. Not so as far as effective leaders are concerned. They do the opposite and make you feel energized and engaged, not in a corny 'go-gett'em' sense, but interacting with them just feels good. Take a look at the video of Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, on YouTube called 'Steve Ballmer going crazy' to see what I do NOT mean in terms of energizing people. Sorry, and I am sure you will agree with me when you see his behavior, but that's just sad: very, very sad. I'd quit on the spot if I had a boss who acted like that. Billionaire or not.
2. They have a 'knack' for communication
Good communication is the life blood of effective leadership. Simple as that. And the best leaders have a natural talent for communicating and they follow a simple but golden rule when they do so. The ABC rule: Accuracy, Brevity and Clarity. Add to this, they have the right personal qualities, such as self-awareness, and the necessary skills which make them really stand out as communicators.
3. They are always reaching higher
First off, the best leaders I know constantly set the bar higher in terms of their own performance. They never settle for second best and are self-motivated and goal-orientated individuals. And they expect the same of others too. That said, they are fair in how they demand that extra effort from those around them. But demand it they do.
4. They visualize and communicate clear goals
Effective leaders are never 'headless chickens', nor are they spineless individuals who avoid difficult issues, sit on the fence or shift positions to suit whichever way the wind is blowing. No, the best leaders have a clear idea of where they want the business to go – and those views are formed based on solid evidence, with a bit of intuition thrown in too for good measure. And when that vision is clear, they flesh it out – and modify it if necessary – with their senior people until they feel certain it is the best way to go. Then they can win support throughout the business, or department, for that vision and later can translate those broad aspirations into meaningful goals, strategies and plans which serve to engage people and guide their actions.
5. They are smart and have good judgment
The best leaders I encounter seem to be smart characters. Not always 'booky' smart though; although at the same time they are never the village idiot either. Instead, they are individuals who benefit from having different forms of intelligence: the capacity to analyze and solve problems, knowledge related to the requirements of their job or an ability to be creative. Added to that, they always seem to have a fair helping of that critical, if somewhat intangible commodity called commonsense. They make decisions only when they have all the information at hand, and because they involve others in the decision-making process, they benefit from the wisdom and experience of others too.
6. They are not afraid to step outside their comfort zone
The best bosses I have seen are those who are not afraid to try different things. New is good, as far as they are concerned, if it means potentially achieving better results. Now, when it comes to finding new ways forward, the best leaders do not necessarily think that they have all the winning ideas, or that only they can spot important trends and changes. No, what distinguishes them in this regard is that, first, they are open to change – they embrace it in fact – and then, second, they create an environment where ideas and suggestions are welcomed from many sources so the flow of creativity is encouraged throughout the business.
7. They are inclusive not exclusive in their approach
A lot of managers talk about inclusivity these days, but the reality does not always match the words where some are concerned. Seeing as effective leaders are confident and open characters – with real empathy for others – they like to include people in the running of the business, where appropriate of course. And they are never afraid to loosen the reins or delegate to others, if they believe that will deliver the best results. For sure, like all human beings, they prefer some people over others, but they treat all fairly and never take dislikes to people for no reason, or allow cliques to form amongst the people around them. They really do think in terms of teams. Everyone has a chance to participate and contribute.
8. The make mistakes but learn from them
Of course, even the very best leaders are not immune from making mistakes. Sometimes you see top leaders being portrayed as infallible messiahs who never put a foot wrong. That's baloney. Sure, the best leaders make less mistakes than others do, but that's largely due to the effective decision-making processes they follow in the first place; and when things do go awry, top leaders see those events as learning opportunities and move on. They do not make the same mistake twice.
9. They have, and follow, their moral compass
There have been plenty of examples of business, and indeed other, leaders who have spectacularly fallen from grace in recent times; pick any you like from Dominique Strauss-Kahn (IMF), Dick Fuld (Lehman) or Sir Fred Goodwin (RBS) to name but three. Sure, they all fell for different reasons, but a big factor in their downfall was that they each lost their moral compass – or maybe they never had one in the first place.
In some cases not having such a compass can lead to greed taking precedence over ethics, or in others 'self' starts to matter most. Lots of things go wrong when you lose sight of your morals and it always leads to negative outcomes. The best leaders at any level, though, do have a moral compass and more importantly they follow it. No, they may not be Holy Joe's but they know the difference between right and wrong. Still, simply knowing what's right or wrong does not the best leader make. In fact, most people can determine the difference; what sets the better leaders apart is that they choose to do the right thing, even when that choice can come with many downsides attached – for example, proactively choosing to recall a defective product even when the risks are low, rather than putting profit before people.
10. They have great self-control
To me, this is the most important trait that all the best leaders possess. And it's vital because it helps them in so many aspects of leading and managing others. For starters, it allows them to think clearly which helps in decision-making and that in turn results in fewer mistakes. It also helps them to act rationally not emotionally when faced with difficult people, so they can decide which leadership style is best to apply in any given situation. Whilst we are on the subject, for me, talking about styles of leadership is actually pointless if someone doesn't have self-control. I could go on but you get the picture, the ability to maintain self-control helps them to 'think' first and then 'do' in variety of situations. Makes them more effective all round.
Now, I don't pretend that this is an exhaustive list but these 10 items would definitely be in the drum for any leadership profile draw; sure, I may have missed some glaring points about leadership effectiveness, but these are the things that jumped immediately into my mind. And the stronger you are in each of these areas, the less of a lottery leadership becomes. No matter where you sit on the management ladder right now, you should spend a moment or two reflecting on how you rate against these 10 factors.
You should also think about how others might rate you in these areas. Think too about the little story that we started off with. Of course, it goes without saying (hopefully) that your people would never want to 'get' you like that, but imagine you were out for a meal with your team. What would they say about you if you left the table for a few moments? Now, don't get me wrong, effective leadership isn't a popularity contest but would your people at least speak about you in a respectful manner, even if they weren't totally happy about some aspects of how you lead them?
Or would they be hatching a plan?
Phone: +41 (0) 22 700 8675
of senior management positions in Ireland, UK and the US. In 1994 he founded HTC Consulting, a Geneva based firm, which specialises in working with enterprises in hospitality and tourism. Since that time, he has led numerous consulting projects for public and private sector clients throughout Europe and the Middle East. He is author of Ready to Lead? (Pearson/Prentice Hall 2007), How to Run a Great Hotel (How to Books 2009), 'Quick Win' Leadership (Oak Tree Press 2010) and Journeys – Short Stories and Tall Tales for Managers which is due to be published in March 2012. He may be contacted via www.htc- consult.com or at email@example.com. Read his Blog at www.htc-consult.com/new/blog