Two Essential Leadership Characteristics

Don’t Promote Failure

Leadership“Yocannot manage men into battle. You manage things; you lead people.”
Grace Hopper (retired Admiral, U.S. Navy)

If you Google “leadership” you will get about 139,000,000 hits. That’s one hundred thirty-nine million! It’s pretty obvious that a lot of people have ideas about leadership.

If the sweetest sound a person can hear is his own name, then surely the most gratifying thing for a follower to know is that his leader understands who he is. A true leader adds value to people by training them, challenging them to achieve, and honestly evaluating their roles in the company. Knowing their stories and finding out who they are will help you to add value. Don’t expect that you will learn your people’s stories by interviewing them! Walking up to someone on the floor, whipping out your notebook, and saying, “OK, Bill, I want to know all about you, so shoot!” will only ensure that you are labeled as a nut before the end of the shift.

Getting to know people in a workplace isn’t all that much different from getting to know them anywhere else. It takes time, effort and patience. Not everyone will open up at the same time and to the same degree (there is that pesky individuality thing again), but even the most hardened member of your team will tell his story eventually. In order to learn their stories, remember that you must be open to being teachable or all this effort will go to waste.

Evaluating people’s skills and temperament and determining their role in the organization will occupy much of your time as a manager. Your company expects you to perform an annual evaluation of your people which will become a part of their permanent record. Imagine the difficulty (if you haven’t already gone through it) in being accurate without knowing who they are!

You do a disservice to your boss, you, and most importantly your people if you complete evaluations with incomplete knowledge. Consider being passed over for a promotion by your faceless boss because he assumed you were happy exactly where you were! This is just the sort of thing you risk doing to your people if you remain unknown to them and they to you.

The converse is true as well. Warm, fuzzy feelings are a great thing at the annual office Christmas party, but there are those unfortunate times that you need to lead somebody out the door – a termination. Knowing their story will be important here as well just in case they can be saved.  

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

You know that you manage things and lead people, and you know their stories which have aided you to make proper evaluations. Promotions can be very good events, but they can turn bad and ugly quickly if you make a poor choice. Certainly, skills and performance will play a large choice in your decision to promote. You won’t likely promote someone who is a perennially mediocre performer, but you might promote a trusted employee who has succeeded at everything he was assigned.

If you don’t know your people, you might promote that trusted employee right into a position for which he is wholly unsuited. Maybe he can’t handle making quick decisions and spends all his time wrapped up in his underwear. Maybe he runs away from the inevitable confrontations that occur in stressful situations. Maybe he is having trouble balancing his work life and personal life in his new, more demanding roll. So he’s failed….and so have you.

Although there is no guarantee that any promotion will be good, you owe it to both your candidate and yourself to know if his story will likely lead him to success or disaster. These can be hard decisions, especially if a candidate has done well for you and wants to advance. But should you make a bad decision, he will suffer far more from the promotion than he will from the disappointment of being denied the opportunity.

The experienced manager understands this and will often use his instinct in these situations. This instinct, or gut feeling, if you will, is probably the result of learning from their own failure. Odds are he promoted someone who failed miserably and it still haunts him. Maybe he even lost a friend over it. We will caution that gut instinct needs to be reinforced with objectivity or that feeling rumbling in your gut may just be a fart.  

In those 139,000,000 Google hits, there are plenty that list leadership characteristics. Some will list 5, some will list 7, and others will list many more. There are only two, in our humble opinion, that are required for effective leaders. They are trust and integrity. Both your followers and leaders must believe they can trust you to have the integrity to do the right thing, no matter how hard it may be. If you don’t have those two qualities then even Ronald Reagan’s charisma won’t be enough.

As a leader…your principal job is to create an operating environment where others can do great things.”  -Richard Teerlink 

This will require building that trust and integrity within the enterprise. It starts at the factory with the plant manager. Create mutual respect among team members that commands the management team to operate in a manner that embraces honesty. Honesty builds trust, trust builds integrity, and integrity builds character. These are qualities that no one can give or take away from you. Your choices are your own. This will require that you offer your very best. Here is a quick reference guide to major differences in being leaders and managers. Remember that you are both and the trick is in the timing.

“I do the very best I know how – the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.” – Abraham Lincoln

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