What are the core traits of an effective leader? There are thousands of books and articles seeking to answer that question, with more appearing every day. This flood of information can be overwhelming to executives who are looking for clear cut answers on how they can be an effective leader. After all, you can only slice and dice the subject in so many ways.
Having said that, I’ve found that the combined research and findings of Warren Bennis, James Kouzes, and Barry Posner have stood the test of time. The core traits of effective leadership found in their research serves as a solid foundation to build your own leadership ideals on. They are as follows:
1. Gaining Trust
Executives are more suspect now than ever before, so it’s important to put extra effort into building trust through ethical actions. Aligning your words and actions is a key pillar for building trust in the workplace. Remember that building this trust will take time; it’s not an overnight process. Bennis’s truism can (and should) be used as a guiding principle, while Kouzes’ and Posner’s five dimensions, which follow, provide the legs that support that principle.
2. Challenging the Process
It’s important to avoid getting caught in a bunker mentality during difficult economic times. Effective leaders don’t hunker down — they take reasonable risks. They search for opportunities, experiment with the process, and take reasonable risks to help their organizations. Effective leaders understand that it’s sometimes necessary to step outside of your comfort zone and that taking a risk is often an essential part of achieving results. Thinking outside the box and taking calculated risks can lead to amazing results but remember to understand the nuances of a challenge before taking that leap.
3. Inspiring a Shared Vision
Leaders see their vision, and then they communicate that vision in a manner that taps into and engages the dreams of the people within their organization. During challenging times, effective leaders should communicate more frequently with their employees about where the company is headed, how they intend to get there, and the importance of everyone’s roles. Effective leaders really do rally the troops. They are able to share a clear, powerful vision that inspires employee performance and manifests results it in the workplace.
4. Enabling Others to Act
Inspiring others to act builds on the importance of sustaining trust and relationships within the organization. Effective leaders are able to foster a team effort by promoting collaboration and supporting personal development. They should be able to bring out the best in each individual team member, as well as recognize the strengths of the team as a whole. Leaders who encourage a collaborative team atmosphere are more likely to spark productive action, improve employee engagement, and increase their organization’s performance.
5. Modeling the Way
Walking the talk is crucial, as it should be. Kouzes and Posner have shown through 35 years of research and evidence for The Leadership Challenge that leaders who practice leadership behavior by modeling the behavior they want to see in their organization are more successful at improving employee engagement and increasing their organization’s financial performance. Leaders model the way through their personal example and their observable dedication. They also act quickly to stop behaviors that breakdown trust and collaboration, such as unethical behavior and unproductive complaining.
6. Management of Respect
Effective leaders have to be respected in order to be successful, but earning that respect takes time and commitment. When employees respect you, they are more likely to be productive and accomplish your shared vision. Effective leaders are able to notice and celebrate the contributions and achievements of the people within their organizations. There are many ways to do this that don’t involve high costs, such as being consistent in your actions and making sure your team knows that you are available for support. Being responsive and forgiving (within reason) is the easiest way to earn respect.
Using Feedback to Stay on Top
Imagine that these 6 traits are 6 pistons within the leadership engine. Ask yourself: am I firing fully on all 6 cylinders? How do you find out if you aren’t? The best practices behind performance measurement and leadership development are based on the use of objective, scientifically valid assessments such as feedback surveys. Once you get accurate and useful feedback, you will be able to construct a program to hone your strengths, overcome or work around barriers, and supercharge your effectiveness and performance.
Subjecting oneself to multi-rater evaluations is not for the faint of heart, however. If the survey is conducted well, you will solicit confidential input from a wide variety of sources, some of whom will probably (and should) be critical of your performance. By using a combination of the research above and good feedback data, you will avoid spinning your wheels and be able to foster the traits that can make you an effective leader.