Attributes of effective leaders

Now and then, I’ve been wondering whether or not ethical and moral standards are actually considered as important among leaders. Who behaves exceedingly self-interested and exploitative and who leads consciously with values? Who executes doubtful decisions with a shrug or out of fear and by doing so express their consent and who decides not the execute? Going in the talks with decision makers or even confronting them can be time consuming and exhausting but the idea of executing actions we think are not only ethically and morally wrong but would also provoke negative behavior along with economic consequences should make us feel much worse. Along with lack of values, this kind of leadership lacks efficiency.

I came across an article by HBR about leadership competencies according to leaders around the world and was relieved to find out that having high ethical and moral standards was considered as the most highly rated attributes of an effective leader among leaders around the world. In the following, I will name most of the attributes mentioned in the article since they correspond with my idea of effective leadership.

1. High ethical and moral standards
Having ethical and moral standards is not only relevant when making crucial decisions, the standards of a leader represent the whole organization. If a leader lacks ethical and moral standards, his/her behavior is likely to have an unfavorable impact on the corporate image. Employees will most likely react with terminations, sick leave, lowering their performances or acting just the same, creating a vicious circle. To regain their respect, leaders will need to put much more effort and revise their way of acting. By this I don’t mean to create a power point presentation with other cool news in order to distract the people. They are no idiots, they can smell when a leader or supervisor talks around the bush. Effective leaders will instead be honest and address possible issues. Besides, the leader will make sure that for instance work guidelines will be made transparent to the employees which apply to all without exception and will not approve of unethical and immoral behavior by others.

2. Providing goals and objectives with loose guidelines and direction
Effective leaders will give their staff the chance to execute their role including making decisions on their own. Effective leaders will thus put effort in making their team strong and independent instead of investing their time in controlling every step they make and participating in every single meeting, wanting to be needed. By providing a team goals and objectives with loose direction and supervision, the team has the chance to come up with measures by themselves and decide when it’s necessary to involve their supervisor. Effective leaders can sure enjoy their holidays more than leaders who tend to control and want to have the final say in everything. The latter will have much more emergent emails and phone calls to answer than a leader who leaves a team which functions independently. The team will be in general more productive and dedicated when being able to make decisions within their area of responsibility.

3. Clearly communicate expectations
Effective leaders give the organization a vision and communicate expectations and values clearly. This gives people a common orientation and direction, and a reason to come to work and do what they are doing everyday. Being ambiguous or dishonest however, does not help to create a sense of community. On the contrary, employees are likely to find their own groups within the organization they identify themselves with to talk about work issues and about people. Talking about people instead of talking to them won’t solve anything.

4. Has the flexibility to change opinions and admits to be wrong sometimes
Effective leaders own the strength to communicate openly when decisions in the past proved to be obviously wrong. At best, there is a regular review-meeting, project members can openly talk about what went wrong and what went right and gain key learnings. Effective leaders are as well more likely to correct their decisions in an ongoing project due to newly acquired insights when it proves to be necessary instead of covering things up. Admitting to have been wrong and take countermeasures is a strength rather than a weakness.

5. Is committed to staff’s training
Effective leaders help the members of the organization to grow. This implies offering them adequate training to get better in what they are doing or acquiring additional skills in peripheral areas relevant to the company. Demanding to write an essay about why an employee thinks he/she deserved to attend seminars or workshops while leaders themselves might attend cost-intensive seminars is sure not the right way to motivate team members. Effective leaders would rather set up a guideline for seminars and agree on specific development opportunities — e.g. in (annual) employer meetings — as binding.

6. Communicates often and openly
Effective leaders most of all communicate openly. Talking around the bush is too time-consuming and misleading. Great leaders do not confuse diplomacy with dishonesty. They speak their mind in a constructive way when necessary.

7. Is open to new ideas and approaches
Effective leaders create an open culture with employees who have learnt to think and work independently an organization can highly benefit from. The team will look for a professional exchange with their supervisors when opinions differ. Phrases like “I am the boss and I want you to execute it this way” would be out of place when interacting with people who are aware of their role and scope of responsibility.

8. Creates a feeling of succeeding and failing together
By giving the power to the team there will be successes and failures. This can also the case when leaders are eager to make every decision themselves. Everyone can be wrong sometimes. Effective leaders do not look for a person to blame or take the credit for the success. It’s either team-success or giving the credit to the sole responsible employer. In case of failure, effective leaders will rather sit together with the team to exchange learnings for future projects.

9. Provides safety to trial and error
Employees who are being controlled in every step they take and work under specified conditions are less likely try new approaches or decide on their own for fear of failing and getting the blame. That is quite different with autonomous employees who are used to use their own judgement and make their own decisions within their area of responsibility. In case of trial and error they are more likely to be upfront and proactively find solutions or ask for support. Effective leaders give their team the necessary space to grow and are aware of who within a team needs more direction and support and who need less.

Further attributes I consider important are

10. Makes binding commitments
Effective leaders don’t fall into the trap in giving promises to employers without having made their mind about the issue yet. Trust is an important part of every relationship. Changing opinions too frequently about an issue and not even letting your staff know about the reasons.

11. Has the courage to say sorry
Another strength of effective leaders is to admit when they have messed it up, especially when other people and the organization are affected by the decision. Just as employees are expected to do so. Effective leaders do not use their position as an excuse not needing to account for their mistakes. They would be perceived as less trustworthy by others if they did. Effective leaders know it, others might not know it (yet) or might be indifferent towards this.

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