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What Does A Leader Look Like?

Leaders plan, organize and solve problems as they arise and ask lots of good questions. What that means is that they have to ensure the business is on the right path, the necessary resources are deployed to get the job done, and that the right decisions are made when they have to be made. The good questions set the stage for good discussions and decisions.

Leaders Create The Vision and Common Path For All To Walk

Leaders have to inspire and marshal the troops so that everyone is focused on a common goal. Everyone's task may be different, but the end result has to be a quality product or service and a satisfied customer. 

Leaders are also responsible for the future, so they have to paint possible future scenarios to get an idea about what sort of issues and problems they might have to deal with. A lot of this is done via discussions with customers, suppliers and industry insiders as well as key members of their leadership team.

Leaders Make Sure Everyone's Job Is Done, And Done Right

Leaders pay attention to what's important, doing so by monitoring key outcomes to ensure the most important things get done. Work must be organized and allocated to ensure it gets done effectively, meaning the rights things are done, and efficiently, meaning things are done right. 

It means setting up systems so that organizational goals and objectives are achieved consistently and according to set quality standards. It also means monitoring activity to and setting priorities to ensure schedules are met and promises are kept.

Because leaders have to concentrate on what’s most important, they have to delegate the rest out, so an important part of leadership is ensuring their people are well trained, instructed, equipped and motivated.

So make sure you surround yourself with quality people who deliver results. Make sure they can by looking at skills and values and character. This determines cultural fit.

Because you can't hold people accountable for things they don't know they're supposed to achieve, you need to be very clear in what expect from them, and of course the outcome must be reasonable and achievable. A good check to ensuring they understand is to ask how they will accomplish what you've asked of them.

If the person has subordinates, you want to be extra careful in constructing the message because you are now communicating to a group that you lead, so you are, in the end, responsible for their performance. You want to communicate a very clear message all can understand and use as a guide to deliver their part of the task.

You also want to ensure you get back information that delivers the truth about what's going on. As much as your message to the group gets filtered through people and their various biases and limitations, it comes back the same way.

Leaders Provide Feedback.

Every person wants to know how they are doing because achieving their career goals is dependent on their performance. Leaders talk to their people, either formally or informally, about how they are doing and in order to inspire them onwards.

Do not under estimate the power of praise here. Praise is an excellent training tool. It’s a feel good reward for something done right so use it to get people to continue to do the right things right. People value what you notice and reward.

Punishment on the other hand is some kind of consequence imposed in order to stop undesirable behaviour. It should be harsh enough to ensure it serves as an example to all and is kept in mind, but not so harsh so that it is seen as unfair. Do it right and it is very effective. Do it wrong and you'll raise more problems than you solve. For example, if the punishment related to an initiative gone wrong, the out of proportion reaction will stifle any and all initiative.

Your most powerful tool for influencing behaviour is the example you set. People pay attention to the things you pay attention to. If you pick up garbage on the way in to your office, that will translate into a clean parking lot and office. People will be as focused on a customer as you are, and as ethical as you are. .

Leaders Solve Problems When They Occur

Every day brings a series of minor and sometimes major issues that need the attention and decision making authority of a leader. Sometimes authority is exercised and decisions are made. Sometimes disputes must be arbitrated. Sometimes there are problems with processes, resources, outputs, customers, suppliers.

The important part is to recognize their importance and possible escalation into a major disruption in business. Good leaders have already considered these possibilities in advance, and are ready with an appropriate response when a major issue arises. Minor issues are generally delegated down to an appropriate person for resolution, with a request to report back.

Leaders Care About Their people

Leaders must maintain a high level of moral and workplace satisfaction in order to keep their people positively engaged, meaning they come to work with an attitude that their work is important and it is important they do it well.

A lot is environmental, in the work place and in systems. A clean, tidy environment, appropriate training, clear instructions, and having the appropriate level of support are examples of this.

It is also important to treat people fairly, consistently and to respond to their problems, personal and work related.

People must also feel included and valued. This means they need to identify themselves with the organization and be well rewarded for helping the organization succeed.

Money in the form of raises, bonuses, gifts and and paid time off are the most tangible forms of reward and are always appreciated, but promotions, choice assignments, and public recognition also show you their contributions matter. 

If you keep these five important tasks in mind, you are well on your way to becoming a good leader

But it does beg the question. How does one learn to be a good leader?

Generally speaking, leadership comes with experience.

Once you have mastered a particular task, you can lead others in performing that task. But organizational leadership is learned by modeling yourself after leaders you admire and who are widely respected. What do they do? What do they ask? How do they organize their people? Note you can find admirable qualities in a number of people. Decide who and what you want to become, and look for people with those characteristics. Ask them lots of questions. Chances are they will be ready to help and groom you if they see potential in you.

Many organizations have mentoring programs as part of their succession strategies. These programs pair experienced people with those who are coming up behind them. This sets up an apprenticeship program whereby skills and practical wisdom is passed on from generation to generation.

You should choose a mentor who is a good fit, someone you can easily talk to, someone whose accomplishments you respect, someone you feel can teach you a lot. It also helps to develop a friendship and a relationship based on mutual respect so that your mentor will feel comfortable in raising you up in the organization.

You can also look outside the organization in books about leadership and in biographies of great leaders.

These are the kinds of questions you want answers to in speaking to leadership mentors or learning about leadership from other sources. Its certainly not exhaustive but is a good start. Ask lots of follow up questions that start with why, how, when etc. 

What are the three main characteristics you believe every leader should possess?
What are the three main skills every leader should develop?
What are the three biggest challenges every leader must deal with?
What are the three most important decisions you make as a leader?
What are the three most important questions you ask as a leader?
What are the three mistakes you see most often?
Who are your role models and why?
How do you motivate others?
Where do your best ideas come from?
How do you ensure your activities and organization are aligned with “core values”>
How do you ensure everyone is focused on their specific goals and the vision, mission and goals of the organization?
What three things are most important when employees first come on board?
What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?

In the end, you have to put what you learn into practice and live a leadership role. Be ready to make mistakes. It is important to own up to them and learn from them. And do not fall prey to impatience. Becoming a good leader takes time and seasoning.

If there is one core rule for leaders, it is to ask lots of good, insightful questions and follow the answers. A well considered insightful question does not display ignorance but wisdom. Ask people to walk you through their reasoning and plans. And "why is that?" is perhaps the best starter of all.

I am a firm believer in Management By Question. It is not a trend, school of thought or widely accepted business management model but it should be. 

© 2015 John B Voorpostel

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