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Eight attributes of strong leaders and teams

Throughout my career, I have spent a great deal of time studying leadership. Some of that study was from working and watching my bosses, and the remainder was through reading and listening to experts in leadership.

I had great and not-so-great bosses, have read great and not-so-great books, and listened to great and not-so-great speakers. But I have learned from all of them, as well as from my first-hand experiences in leadership positions. I too have had great and not-so-great moments, and always try to learn from them.

I believe that everyone has opportunities to lead, and the best organizations and teams encourage leadership at all levels. When studying leaders and teams that work well, I identified eight attributes that were consistent within all levels of an organization.

1. Accountability

When people know what they are responsible for and “own it,” they are more successful in their jobs and happier in the workplace. No employee likes ambiguity and appreciates clarity in their role. Accountability provides a framework for completing tasks and projects while giving people ownership of the work.

2. Communication

Good communicators realize that communication is a two-way street. Leaders must listen as much as they talk and push out information. When leaders listen actively and convey information regularly, people feel like their concerns are heard, expectations are clear and issues are often resolved faster before they become bigger problems.

3. Confidence

Don’t confuse confidence with cockiness. There is a clear difference. Confident leaders are sure in their decisions and abilities because they have done their homework, built great teams and have the experience. Cocky leaders are often ill-prepared, have teams that are scared and are frequently hiding their lack of knowledge or experience. Confident leaders know their strengths and weaknesses, their team’s strengths and weaknesses and the workstyles of the people around them. They use this knowledge to create functional teams, not to label employee workstyles or exploit their weaknesses.

4. Empathy

Empathy is often confused with sympathy. Leaders who confuse them may find themselves unable to relate to their employees. Empathetic leaders show that they care about their people by listening to their concerns, trying to understand them and relating in a meaningful way. Leaders who drift toward sympathy often fail to connect with others and come across as showing pity instead of understanding.

5. Innovation/risk-taking

Strong leaders and teams are always looking for new ways to do things better. They do this through a mix of innovation and taking measured risks. Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean you have to create a new technology or product. It can be as simple as creating a new process that transforms the way your company does things. Risk-taking doesn’t mean you have to leverage the company to do something new. It may just mean that your team is doing something out of its comfort zone to see if it works. Encouraging innovation and risk-taking empowers employees, rewards creative thinking and improves problem solving.

6. Self-awareness

Leaders who know themselves, their strengths and their weaknesses are more likely to connect with people in all levels of the organization. The most self-aware leaders I have worked for have taught me great things along the way. They earn the respect of those who work for them because they show humanity, they are respected by the communities where they live because they are approachable and real and are admired in their line of work.

7. Trustworthiness

Bob Burg, an influential leader, author and trainer, says “All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.” Your job as a leader is to gain the trust of your team, your clients, your vendors and your partners. Teams listen to leaders they can trust. Clients stay with companies they trust.

8. Vulnerability

I admire the research from Brene' Brown, an author and researcher who has focused much of her work on shame and vulnerability. When I think of leadership and some of the best leaders, I realize they are the ones that show their vulnerability. Her TED talk explains why – people who are vulnerable are willing to do something when there are no guarantees, are willing to be themselves as opposed to what others think they should be, and practice gratitude and joy.

No leader is perfect and good leaders will be the first ones to admit that publicly (self-aware). However, the best leaders are looked to as resources for information and guidance (trustworthy). They will own up to their mistakes and move on if they make them (accountability). They will guide and listen along the way (communication) and take charge during the tough times (confidence). They will be there for their team members during good times and bad (empathy) and encourage creativity when things aren’t working the way they should (innovation). Ultimately, they will show that they are human and show honest appreciation for those who work for them (vulnerability).


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