7 Habits of Truly Effective Leaders
And it has nothing to do with being on top
Leadership is being redefined like never before. The generation where decades of experience and wisdom were pre-requisites for promotion are gone. Today, it’s not uncommon to see a young adult starting a new career in a junior managerial position.
While there are plenty of questions to debate whether our corporate culture is heading in the right direction, there are some characteristics consistent across all effective leaders in every era. Here they are.
1. They don’t call people out
Good leaders aren’t quick to point fingers and push blame. They know that mistakes are a part of being human and that they are bound to happen. When things go wrong, their immediate reaction isn’t to figure out who dropped the ball. They know that isn’t constructive and doesn’t help the problem at hand.
Instead, their instinct is to find solutions. They are fixers. Once there’s an adequate solution and things have returned to an acceptable equilibrium, they begin working on a contingency plan.
They analyze what happened and try to understand how and why things went wrong. Their focus is not on punishing the victim, but on giving constructive criticism for future prevention. If they need to give stern warnings, they do it in private. People make mistakes and many of them deserve second chances. Good leaders understand that.
2. They don’t hoard information
Information is power. And leaders are usually the ones with the most experience and skill. Often, it’s their expertise that put them in a leadership position. But the good ones don’t hoard their knowledge. They don’t feel the need to secure their position by withholding information. Knowledge and information aren’t the only things that make them great leaders. They have plenty more to offer than just that.
Instead, they give endlessly. They aren’t afraid to share. They know that knowledge isn’t a non-renewable resource. Teaching is the gift that keeps on giving. And effective leaders spend lots of their time mentoring and educating their team. They know that this has a high return on investment. A self-sustaining and knowledgeable team is stronger than one that relies on their leader.
3. They pick up the slack silently
Things fall through the cracks all the time.
People forget things. Small duties like updating the calendar or printing off the end-of-day report get neglected. They lose motivation and grow lazy. Grammatical errors and typos find their way into reports and emails. People push and avoid responsibilities. And things get lost between “she said she’ll do it” and “I thought he was going to do it”.
As much as a team should be a collaborative network, the meshes don’t always catch everything. Many times, the leader sits like a safety net at the bottom of the team. They fix and complete countless things that are too late to delegate and beyond re-explaining.
And they do it silently. They don’t need praise or recognition. For them, a failure of the team is a failure of their leadership. After they get the job done, their mind tries to understand why their team is falling short on these tasks. They work towards better communication and future prevention.
4. They admit when they don’t know
Leaders have a wealth of wisdom and knowledge. But what they don’t know far outweighs what they do know. And they never let themselves forget that.
When they’re ask a question they don’t know, they don’t stall for time or beat around the bush with non-answers. They admit they have a knowledge gap and begin working towards bridging it. Similarly, if they come across something they’re unsure of, they’re not afraid to ask for help. They don’t try to push responsibilities or feign expertise. They know that just leads to crappy work. And great leaders aim to produce quality results.
Leaders are some of the fastest growing individuals. Part of that comes from unabashedly admitting that they don’t know everything. That helps them move on quickly to the learning phase. There is so much knowledge in the work and there’s no surprise or shame in being unaware of or not understanding something.
5. They make the rules
Rules are important. They keep the team organized and help to establish a standard. It sets expectations for heathy, productive workplaces. They help individuals on the team understand their roles and responsibilities.
Imagine a workplace with no rules. It’d be like a zoo with no gates. People would waltz in whenever they pleased. Nothing would get done… at least not at the right times. We wouldn’t be able to predict the quality of any outcome. Things would be a complete mess.
6. But they know when to break the rules
No one likes a complete rule stickler. We’ve all had a boss like that before — one who treats office guidelines like the end-all-be-all. It makes work a dreadful place to come to. You feel like a pawn restricted by these opaque confines.
Bending the rules for special situations and unique circumstances is important. It shows the team that you’re human. It also tells them that you know they’re human too.
Nothing in life is all that rigid. And there is no single rule book that effectively governs us as individuals. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a point to life on Earth. Good leaders know rules are effective, but that they are far from perfect. And when imperfect strikes, they adapt and modify the rules.
7. They praise generously and globally
Compliments are rewards are great motivators. Especially at work. Most of us are trying to develop our careers. A lot of our time and energy goes into building social networks and improving our portfolios.
Praise lets us know that we’re doing things right and moving in a good direction.
Honest leaders also know that their team does the brunt of the work. And good quality works makes them look good. But they aren’t naive. They know that anything, but recognition for the team member who actually did the work is just plain lying. And that’s going to make them feel unvalued and gypped.
Effective leaders acknowledge hard-work and good work. They praise the individual, but they also let the whole team know. Good leaders know that it’s difficult for people to show off their work and ask for applause, even when it’s well deserved. That comes off looking snobbish and self-absorbed.
So, they do it for them. They cultivate a culture where members of the team celebrate one another and encourage each other to strive for better.
Leader have been long depicted as figures who sits up on a tall platform spying on everyone and shouting ridiculous orders. Some of us have had the misfortune of being under that kind of jurisdiction. If you haven’t, there are enough horror stories scattered on the internet and shared between friends and family for you to understand.
But being a good, effective leader isn’t effortless. These habits take time to develop and truly embody. Along the way, there is a lot of frustration, anger, and stress that accompanies the learning process.
If you’re in a leadership position, give yourself some slack. If you’re annoyed with your leader, give them some slack. It’s not easy being depicted as someone on top, when the reality is you work from the bottom.