In our last blog post on leadership, we talked about how leadership is based on qualities, not qualifications. There we defined leadership as “Directing, guiding and influencing the behavior and work of others towards the accomplishment of specific goals in a given situation.”
In this blog post we’re going to delve deeper into what it means to be a good leader by looking at some of the qualities that make up one. However, we can’t just look at qualities in a vacuum. We also need to look at what leaders actually do for a team, and what their main actions are.
Fundamental qualities of good leaders
It’s actually difficult to talk about general qualities of leaders. As we mentioned in our last post, the best leaders are those that use their unique skills and qualities to lead, and who adapt to different situations. So there are numerous potential qualities that good leaders can have, and listing them all would be an endless task.
However, we can distill some of the fundamental qualities that all leaders tend to share, and around which many others are based. These are the qualities are as follows:
- Vision–being able to come up with a clear idea of what you want your team to achieve or how you want things to change, and ways to accomplish it.
- Communication–the ability to relate this vision to your team and to gather opinions and support from team members.
- Knowledge and Intelligence–thorough knowledge about your team and the work that your team does, and the ability to gather, sort through and organize information about the project or task that you are leading.
- Responsibility–having a sense of responsibility for your work and for the overall well-being of the team. This also means willing to be held accountable for your actions as a leader, and to sacrifice time and energy in order to lead your team to its goal.
- Empathy–the ability to see your fellow team members as individuals, and to understand where they are coming from. This also involves being compassionate towards team members when they are having issues, listening to what is going on with them, and having an overall view of the team.
The role of leaders on teams
Now that we have the foundational qualities of leaders, we can talk about what roles leaders fulfill on teams. We will do this by listing some of the major actions that leaders take. Again, this list is not exhaustive. Rather, these actions form the central components of what good leaders do.
It’s important to emphasize the point that leadership is about doing. It’s about the act of leading, and not so much about who is necessarily designated as a leader or not. Any team member can become a leader at any point, depending on the challenge or task.
Furthermore, the qualities mentioned above are in some ways derived from the actions below. It is in the act of leading, and stepping into these roles, that team members develop the qualities of leadership and display their unique talents as leaders.
1. Initiate action
The leadership role that probably most people are familiar with is initiating action on teams. Leaders get the ball rolling, and get the rest of the team involved. In this sense, leaders function as role models, getting others involved by providing a standard of behavior and engagement with the project or task.
This does not mean that leaders have to be the ones to come up with the original idea or plan (although they can be the same person). Rather, leaders are the ones who start the process of moving that idea or plan out of the realm of thought and into real concrete actions.
One of the ways that leaders get their teams involved is through motivation. Motivation is about making the team excited to work together to accomplish the goal or task. So this role is a combination of selling the goal to a team, as well as working to build relationships between members so that they can work together effectively and enjoy doing it.
While motivation is especially important in the beginning phases of a new project or goal, good leaders understand the importance that motivation plays throughout the entire process. Motivation always has the chance of lagging, particularly if the team is faced with unexpected challenges. So it’s the leader’s role to figure out ways to help motivate the team, such as planning team building activities or fun events, and get them through tough times and be proactive about preventing apathy.
Teams are by nature composed of different, complex individuals with their own unique skills, personalities and characteristics. So a big role for leaders is to coordinate all these moving parts so that they work harmoniously in accordance with the goals of the team.
As you can probably see, this requires knowledge about the goal or project. But it also requires good knowledge about the team and its members: how they function together, how they click, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. This type of knowledge can only be gained from establishing strong relationships and a sense of trust among all team members.
4. Listen and offer guidance
Listening is one of the most important things good leaders do. We often imagine leaders as the ones who are always giving speeches or barking orders. But the real work of leaders is in listening to team members. This means listening to what’s going on on the ground, listening to new ideas, and listening to their critiques and complaints in order to establish a greater environment of trust.
The flip side is listening is not speaking perse, but rather offering guidance based on what is heard. This can be guidance in terms of what the next steps should be, or guidance about how to deal with a problem on the team. But again, good leadership is about establishing trust and offering support through guidance, not simply giving orders.
5. Inspire confidence
Similar to motivating teams, as described above, another important leadership role is inspiring confidence in the team and the work they are doing. Confidence means that team members understand their individual roles and the roles of their teammates, and that they gain a sense of accomplishment from their work.
Confidence is also related to a sense of purpose. Knowing exactly what you are doing and why is a vital part of any effective team. And leadership has a big role to play in terms of clearly defining and communicating those roles, as well helping to provide teams with the larger, purpose-driven view of the project.
6. Create a healthy work environment
Healthy work environments that are psychologically safe are critical to a team’s success. And leaders on teams have major roles to play in creating and supporting that environment. Again, this does not necessarily mean putting policies in place or giving orders about how things should be.
Instead, good leaders should effectively role model healthy work behavior and protocols, gather resources to make work environments more productive and psychologically safe, and use their influence and guidance to implement better practices and provide a more supportive environment.
7. Build resilience
The last major role that leaders play on teams is perhaps the most forward-looking. Yes, good leaders need to be focused on the tasks and goals that the team is working on right now. But they should also have an eye towards the future, and how to make their team more resilient to coming challenges.
Part of this involves analyzing how the team is doing at accomplishing their goals, and what strengths and weaknesses are being demonstrated. But it’s also about looking at the underlying structure of the team and being able to notice where repairs need to be made–in terms of teamwork, communication, trust, unity, etc.
Resilience has become especially important in the past couple of years, as we have seen first-hand how important it is to be prepared for unexpected challenges. We have also come to realize that the issues that we tend to overlook or underestimate tend to come back to bite us when major crises occur.
That’s why teams need to stay prepared, perhaps with regular team building activities, and always look at ways to make themselves more resilient, with the help and guidance of good leadership.