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Published on May 22, 2018

10 Qualities of a Leader (Advanced Version for Leaders Who Aim High)

10 Qualities of a Leader (Advanced Version for Leaders Who Aim High)

Whether you’re trying to start your own business, manage a team of employees or just run an effective neighborhood meeting, you understand the challenges of leadership on a personal level. You’re expected to have the answers to every question, you’re responsible for inspiring and motivating people (no matter how unmotivated they started), and worst of all, there’s no one above you to turn to for advice or direction—it all has to come from you.

There’s no blueprint for how to become a successful leader, and there’s evidence on both sides of the argument for whether great leaders are born or made.[1] You can’t expect to naturally be an effective leader, nor can you ever expect to become a perfect leader. But if you study the qualities of a leader from examples of the past and scientific evidence, you can steer your behavior, your habits and your outlook in a more favorable direction.

So let’s take a look—what does it take to become a great leader?

1. Hold firm convictions to inspire followers and radiate confidence.

Holding firm convictions means you’ll be almost stubborn in your adherence to your values, beliefs and vision for the future. That doesn’t mean you ignore people when they disagree with you (in fact, as you’ll see, flexibility is important), but it does mean you have significant integrity, and you’re likely to stay true to your values, no matter what happens.

Research shows a high correlation between uncertainty and stress;[2] if your employees aren’t sure what you’re going to think about a new idea, or if they feel like you change your positions too frequently, they may not be able to focus on their jobs or be as productive as they could. They might also have less respect for you as a leader.

There’s a famous anecdote about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs that demonstrates his ruthless convictions.[3] when introducing a prototype of the iPhone, a friend criticized the touch keyboard, stating that users would strongly prefer traditional keyboards on their phones. Jobs’s response was “they’ll get used to it.” He’d already made up his mind, and was sure this was the correct path forward.

How to get started

To get started with this one, think carefully about which values and visions matter most to you. Then, frame them in your mind as unbreakable.

2. Use emotional intelligence (EQ) to improve both client and employee relationships.

Emotional intelligence (or EQ) is your ability to understand both your own emotions and the emotions of others.[4] It gives you more control over your own emotional states, meaning you’re less influenced by raw feelings and it allows you to handle interpersonal relationships with your employees with more empathy.

One study within a Fortune 400 insurance company found that individuals with high emotional intelligence received more merit increases, held higher company ranks and got better ratings from both peers and superiors.[5] This is attributable to EQ’s many benefits. These employees have better control over their own emotions and behaviors, work better with other people and are able to quickly resolve conflicts before they get out of hand.

How to get started

Getting started may prove difficult here. While some people naturally have high emotional intelligence, others take years to fully develop it.

If you’re just getting started, spend time paying attention to what other people are feeling and ask yourself why they’re feeling it. Regular periods of introspection will also help. Here you can find 7 Practical Ways To Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

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3. Master the art of communication to operate more efficiently (and boost morale).

Communication unfolds in many ways during your tenure as a leader. You’ll be leading in-person meetings, holding phone calls with clients and sending emails regularly. You’ll also be a part of heavy conversations, whether it’s breaking bad news to a client or firing an employee. Learning to communicate effectively is crucial to your success.

Ask any leader what the most valuable skills for success are, and they’ll likely list communication skills among them. Billionaire and serial entrepreneur Richard Branson, for example, has called communication “the most important skill any leader can possess.”[6]

Communication not only makes processes run smoother (thanks to efficient transmission of instructions and details), but also allows you to convey mood and urgency through your tone. Accordingly, it has objective and subjective impacts on your audience.

How to get started

Email is the easiest place to gain mastery here since you’ll have time to think through your sentences and use email productivity hacks to get even better.

Pay attention to your purpose, wording, and tone, and experiment until you find the right combination.

When speaking, try to speak slower and think through your sentences carefully. You’ll appear more confident and buy time to find exactly the right words for any situation.

4. Always favor action over inaction to preserve your team’s momentum.

Great leaders typically have the mentality that action is favorable to inaction. If you’re facing a problem, procrastinating is the worst thing you can do. Instead, commit to moving forward however you can, even if that means making a temporary “duct tape fix,” or even making a mistake.

U.S. President Harry S. Truman is quoted as once saying,

“Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.”

This is the man who dropped the atomic bomb—an action that’s been criticized for ending thousands of innocent lives, but also praised for possibly preventing even further casualties worldwide. It was a risky and heavy decision, but one that kept things moving forward.

How to get started

When you’re facing a problem or a decision point, think carefully about your options, and start leaning away from options that don’t require action (i.e., “let’s wait a month,” or “let’s keep things the way they are for a while.”)

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This article about making decisions can help you: 5 Tips for Lightning-Fast Decision Making

5. Be diplomatic to encourage new ideas and thorough discussion.

As important as it is to stay true to your convictions, it’s a terrible idea to lead through dictatorship. Instead, be diplomatic and encourage your employees to bring their ideas to the table—even if they outright contradict your own. Open discussions and listen to every idea that comes across your desk.

Many companies have made it a general policy to encourage ideas from their employees from the ground up. Google, for example, for a period of many years, gave its employees 20 percent of their working hours to work on any kind of projects they wanted to.[7]

And according to Dan Glaser of Marsh and McLennan Companies,[8]

“We have found that innovative ideas bubble up when you tap into an element of dissent.”

The research here indicates that companies that not only allow, but encourage and take advantage of disagreement, stand to benefit greatly.

How to get started

You can encourage this behavior by giving every employee time to express their ideas, whether it’s in meetings or a private setting. When you disagree, don’t cut down the idea; make a case for why yours is stronger and thank the employee for voicing their opinion.

The “safer” it is to voice a dissenting opinion, the more your employees will be willing to do it. Some more tips to help you make your team feel safe here.

6. Remain humble and admit your mistakes to discourage resentment or intimidation.

Not all of your strategies and decisions are going to work out. Learning to admit your mistakes and note the flaws in your thinking can actually be a strength. If you pretend you’re perfect or refuse to admit to your mistakes, one of two things will happen: your employees will become resentful of you, believing you to be narcissistic or delusional or they’ll be intimidated by you, thinking that mistakes are unacceptable.

At least one study has found that CEOs who demonstrate humility tend to perform better than their counterparts.[9] When a CEO is approachable, fallible and humble about their status, employees are more appreciative. Workplaces tend to be calmer and more unified, and leaders earn more respect.

How to get started

Humility is hard to teach but you can embody its core principles. If you make a mistake, admit it and laugh it off, and don’t be afraid to let down your guard in front of your employees. You’re human too. In fact, showing vulnerability actually proves your strength.

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7. Use patience to stabilize your emotions and make more logical and long-term decisions.

Stabilize your emotions when making decisions, and steer those decisions toward the most logical long-term approach. The most effective marketing strategies, for example, take months to years of time for development, but if you’re hasty and emotional in your decision-making, you might opt for a short-term strategy that yields rewards quickly, but has no distant future.

Jeff Bezos is one powerful anecdotal example here, almost every decision he makes as CEO is done with the future in mind.[10]Amazon is one of the most powerful and respected companies in the world, yet it doesn’t make much of a profit. Its excess revenue is constantly funneled back into the company to help it grow into new markets and investigate new opportunities for expansion.

How to get started

Before making a decision or choosing a path forward, remove yourself from the situation. Pretend you’re an unbiased onlooker and think about how you’d advise a stranger in this same situation. Then, imagine the consequences not just a week from now, but a month, a year and a decade from now.

8. Stay organized to set a good example for your employees.

Leaders are busy, so small levels of organization may seem like an unnecessary waste of time. However, staying organized is important not just for your own productivity, but also for your employees—who will be looking to you as an example.

This idea is illustrated by the fact that 75 percent of office workers believe that a disorganized office is a sign of deeper problems within a company.[11] If your desk is cluttered with papers, or if they can see your email inbox has 2,000 unread messages, they may believe something is wrong with the company—or with your approach as a leader. They may also have an excuse to be disorganized in their own roles, which can lead to even more productivity problems.

How to get started

Start paying closer attention to how you organize yourself and try to consistently present a clean, tidy image—even if things are more chaotic beneath the surface. Keep track of your own productivity and schedule 15 minutes a day to keeping your work and belongings organized.

9. Empower your employees to become leaders in their own realms.

You may be the head honcho of the organization but your business will run far smoother if you allow the people beneath you to be leaders of their own domains. Empower them to make their own decisions, discipline and reward their own underlings, and communicate how they see fit. This will take some of the pressure off you, improve the morale of the people you’ve inspired, and add more diverse opinions and approaches to your company culture.

Several amazing leaders have taken this approach. Elon Musk, for example, recently wrote an email to his staff about the importance of employee empowerment.[12] In it, he describes managers, in general, as a “bad idea.” In his view, every person within the company should take ownership of their own responsibilities and be empowered to make decisions and take risks as any leader would.

Former President Ronald Reagan, as another example, is quoted as saying,

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.”

It’s a policy many presidents have taken to heart.

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How to get started

It’s hard to introduce this idea to a workplace that’s been without it, but you can start by telling your managers and employees how much you trust them. Delegate decisions to them and don’t micromanage.

Set expectations in meetings and in individual employee reviews that you trust your employees to make their own decisions. When they start moving forward, making their own decisions, reward them for their independence and confidence to encourage the behavior even further.

This guide can help you to know how to delegate works for the best: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

10. Be decisive to demonstrate your authority.

Finally, exercise decisiveness to prove and radiate your authority. Leaders are primarily decision makers, which means you’ll be held accountable for the outcomes of those decisions, however they come.

Great leaders aren’t afraid to face the consequences, especially during periods of uncertainty. Instead, they make decisions quickly based on all the evidence they can gather, and hold firm to those decisions. This not only makes you appear more authoritative, it encourages more decisiveness and resolve within your employees as well.

Successful leaders are shown to be more decisive than their less successful counterparts.[13] This could be due to any number of secondary effects. For example, it could be that decisive leaders are better decision-makers overall, thinking through problems more comprehensively. It could also be that decisive leaders are more confident and inspire more from their underlings.

How to get started

Despite the advantages here, you still shouldn’t rush your decisions. Gather as much information as you can in a situation and pull the trigger as soon as you think it’s appropriate.

Delaying a decision or presenting yourself as “on the fence” can weaken your position. Changing your mind on a decision after it’s already been made (like allowing an employee to convince you not to fire him/her) will compromise your projected authority.

Making decisions under pressure is hard, some tips here maybe able to help: How to Make Decisions Under Pressure

Understand leaders to become a great leader

There are many different styles of leadership to consider, so naturally, these qualities of a leader may transform as you come into your own approach. But, how you use them isn’t nearly as important as understanding them and learning from them.

The better you know and understand the leaders who have come before you, the more tools you’ll have to shape your own style of leadership and become successful in any application you choose.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

More by this author

Anna Johansson

Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant.

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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