In my book, "Lead That Thing!" I provide a survey for assessing your leadership skills. The categories below are some of the traits needed to be a strong and effective leader.
Making Decisions (and saying “No”)
Leadership involves making decisions. Even if they utilize a data-driven decision model, they may be forced to make decisions that are unpopular with their teams or peers e.g. when their final decision is in conflict with the opinions of the team. Consensus can be good in some situations, but a leader cannot always wait for consensus to drive efforts forward.
A leader mustn’t be fixated on being popular. It is impossible to be liked by everyone. In life, we look to be our best based on how we treat ourselves and others. Likewise, companies and their leaders look to do good for their company, employees, and their customers. Along the way, there will be people that do not align with your goals, and that is something you need to be comfortable with instead of taking it personally.
Working horizontally and vertically (with peers and leaders)
As a leader, you will be expected to provide information or direction to either your peers or your superiors. This requires confidence and good communication skills. It is important to understand that the amount of details will vary with each group.
Communicating vertically to superiors and executives demands a more concise and specific message which they can use to draw insights on the company performance and make decisions accordingly.
Presenting information horizontally to peers, on the other hand, requires more detail. This is because peers need that detail to effectively support you and your teams.
Whether it is running a home, school, company, or business, it is generally not possible for one person to do everything. Unless the scope of work involved in any of these entities is minimal, there will be a need for division of duties. Without this there would be overloading and eventual burnout.
A leader needs to be comfortable with letting go of control and assigning work to others by providing clear expectations of outcomes. This frees up the leader to focus on more strategic matters and also develops more high performing individuals and teams.
A confident leader would not see the delegation as a threat, but rather as a duty to provide more people opportunities to lead and grow. This builds trust and loyalty and helps retain talent.
Deferring to the experts
Leaders cannot be experts in every single topic, but they need to have a good understanding of their business and industry. To gain knowledge on specific topics, however, they need to talk to experts and leverage their expertise when required. It would be foolish for a leader to pose as an expert on a subject when there are others with a vast amount of experience on exactly that topic. Leaders that know when and how to leverage their in-house experts do not see these experts as a threat to their position as a leader. Instead, they take pride in knowing their organization has the right talent to help achieve its goals.
Giving credit to others
When a project is successful, do you praise your team for generating that positive outcome? Or do you feel that your leadership was the bigger reason for the team’s success? In most cases, success is a combination of both factors. Good leaders do not thrive on their ability to lead, but rather, on the success of their teams. Leadership should bring out the best in teams and should always keep team morale at a good point.
Leaders that struggle to give credit to the teams generally have insecurities about their ability to lead. They fear that the team may be seen as self-sufficient and reduce the leader’s value in the organization. This is not something a true leader would be concerned about. Strong leaders constantly look out for the team's success and give credit where credit is due.
Owning your mistakes
Have you ever worked with a leader that could never admit they were wrong? This can play out in a few ways:
They throw their team under the bus for their bad decisions
They defend their decision despite all the facts against it
They are unable to admit that they could have done better
This type of behavior does not help the leader, the team, or the company!
I have worked with a few leaders with this flaw and it is nothing less than aggravating. As a leader myself, I have seen that owning a mistake and focusing on what could be done differently in the future has helped me become a better and trusted leader. As a leader, I am not there to pose as though I know everything and can make no mistake. That is unrealistic and pretentious. It would also prevent my teams, peers and superiors from seeing me for my true abilities as a leader.
Take some time to look at the factors discussed above and see where your comfort level lies on each of those points. Use a scale ranging from "Extremely Uncomfortable" to "Extremely Comfortable" for each factor to determine your leadership baseline. This can help you easily identify whether you are ready to be a leader, or which behaviors you need to tweak (or which to acquire training for) to become a better leader.
Where to start
To become a better leader, you have to start with yourself. Developing the right mindset and temperament is the first step to being successful. Leadership is about bringing out the best in people. This means that you, as a leader, must learn to focus on how you can help others thrive to have success as a whole.