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10 Characteristics of Superior Leaders

Do you have these essential traits of a leader?

Entrepreneur

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Leaders in a boardroom

Thousands of articles and books have been published describing what it takes to be a superior organisational leader. Some researchers and authors claim a superior leader possesses certain traits or abilities; others say it’s all personality. Still others maintain it’s the behaviours – not necessarily the intentions or thoughts – that are crucial.

Whatever your viewpoint, it boils down to this: successful leaders share the following characteristics or views:

1. Mission.
Leaders know what theirm ission is. They know why the organisation exists. A superior leader has a well thought out (often written) mission describing the purpose of the organisation. That purpose need not be esoteric or abstract, but rather descriptive, clear and understandable. Every employee should be able to identify with the mission and strive to achieve it.

2. Vision.
Where do you want your organisation to go? A vision needs to be abstract enough to encourage people to imagine it but concrete enough for followers to see it, understand it and be willing to climb onboard to fulfil it.

3. Goal.
How is the organisation going to achieve its mission and vision and how will you measure your progress? Like a vision, goals need to be operational; that is specific and measurable. If your output and results can’t be readily measured, then it will be difficult to know if you have achieved your purpose. You may have wasted important resources (time, money, people and equipment) pursuing a strategy or plan without knowing if it truly succeeded.

4. Competency.
You must be seen by your advisors, stakeholders, employees, and the public as being an expert in your field or an expert in leadership. Unless your constituents see you as highly credentialed – either by academic degree or with specialised experience – and capable of leading your company to success, it will be more difficult for you to be respected, admired, or followed.

Practically speaking, not all executives immediately possess all of the characteristics that spell success. Many leaders learn along the way with hard work. As crises and challenges arise, those at the top of the hierarchy have key opportunities to demonstrate to others that they are in fact, qualified to be leaders. In actuality, greater competency can be achieved as a leader gains more on-the-job experiences.

5. A Strong Team.
Realistically, few executives possess all of the skills and abilities necessary to demonstrate total mastery of every requisite area within the organisation. To complement areas of weakness, a wise leader assembles effective teams of experienced, credentialed, and capable individuals who can supplement any voids in the leader’s skill set. This ability is what sets leaders apart from others. However, the leader needs to be willing to admit he lacks certain abilities and go about finding trusted colleagues to complement those deficiencies. After building the team, the entrepreneur needs to trust that team to understand issues, create solutions, and act on them.

6. Communication Skills.
It does little good to have a strong mission, vision, and goals – and even a solid budget – if the executive cannot easily and effectively convey his ideas to the stakeholders inside and outside of the organisation. He must regularly be in touch with key individuals, by email, v-mail, meetings, or other forms of correspondence. Of course, the best way to ensure other people receive and understand the message is with face-to-face interactions.

Getting out of the office or touring different sites is an irreplaceable method of building rapport and sending and receiving messages. “Management By Walking Around,” or MBWA, meeting employees at their workstations or conference rooms, or joining them for lunch are just a few of the many effective approaches leaders can use to develop positive contacts with employees.

7. Interpersonal Skills.
Successful entrepreneurs are comfortable relating to other people; they easily create rapport and are at least more extroverted than they are introverted. These factors help leaders seem approachable, likeable, and comfortable in their position. Those qualities contribute to staff wanting to interact with their leader. They also help motivate employees to do a better job. When workers can relate to their boss, they believe that their boss is more concerned about them, their performance, and their output. Furthermore, they believe that they can go to their boss with problems they encounter on the job without fearing consequences for not knowing how to resolve issues.

Not all entrepreneurs are adept at interpersonal skills. Those who aren’t might find it helpful to take a course, choose a mentor or locate a therapist to help them build interpersonal skills. The intangible cost is too high to not improve these abilities. In addition, here’s where a strong team comes into play. The less experienced leader who is still learning these skills can rely on the team to get out and to “press the flesh,” interact with employees, and spread a positive attitude to help develop morale.

8. A “Can do” Attitude.
Nothing builds a picture of success more than achievement, and achievement is the number one factor that motivates just about everyone across all cultures. When employees see that their boss can lead and direct, has a clear vision and attainable goals, and actually gains results in a timely manner, then that person’s credibility increases throughout the organisation. Entrepreneurs must modestly demonstrate their skills to give their constituents valid reasons to appreciate and value their efforts.

9. Inspiration.
Quite often, employees need someone to look up to for direction, guidance, and motivation. The entrepreneur needs to be that person. Hopefully, Human Resources has hired self-motivated individuals. Nevertheless, there are times when many employees need the boss to inspire them by word or action. Employees need someone to look up to, admire, and follow. Even when the production or delivery of services looks like “it is all going well,” the leader may at times need to step in personally to offer a suggestion or encouragement to ensure that employees perform their jobs in an optimal manner.

10. Ambition.
Resting on your laurels is bad for employee morale and entrepreneurial credibility. Employees need to be constantly striving for improvement and success; and they need to see the same and more in their leaders. When the boss is seen as someone who works to attain increasingly higher goals, employees will be impressed and more willing to mirror that behaviour. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Guarantee Results

The basic message in this article is that you as the owner/entrepreneur need to “be out there” for your employees. Continually demonstrate to them why and how you earned the position you now hold. Communicate with them using any of a variety of methods that show them you are worthy of being followed. Make that process inspiring and positive and you can almost guarantee that your results will be consistent with your efforts.

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

Leading

What A Grade 1 Sticker Business Taught Me About Business

It’s the very fundamentals that are frequently overlooked amid ambition and “blue sky thinking” – yet, these remain the most crucial element of any business.

Grant Field

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When I was a kid, my father believed that instead of getting pocket money, my brothers and I should learn how to make money. Stickers were the school craze when I was in Grade 1, and we wanted a collection for ourselves, so Dad said if we wanted to buy the stickers, we needed to make the money. So, logically, we started a sticker trading business. Dad gave us the start-up money and took us through the basics of business.

We had a cash float for purchases, and learnt about cost price, mark-up and selling price – very basic accounting. We kept recycling that money, making extra and using it to buy more stickers. Then we worked out that if we increased the mark-up, we’d make a bigger profit – so why not make the mark-up as big as possible? The obvious happened. Our prices were too high, and we lost customers.

Valuable business lesson learnt, we came back down to a mark-up that other kids were willing to pay for.

More lessons to learn

Then people came to us and asked if they could take a sticker today and pay us tomorrow. We saw no reason not to trust them. Guess what? They didn’t pay us back. We had bad debt on our hands. When we sold out of stickers, we had cash-flow issues and couldn’t buy more stock. Dad was there to help us out, though, so we received another capital injection to get back off the ground. And this time, if we did extend credit, we loaded it for the privilege of “buy now, pay later” – another lesson learnt.

We ran a proper ledger for the business, tracking our inventory, sales and profit. Even if our “bank” account was a piggy bank, we had a clear record of what was going on. When I look back on it, none of what I learnt was irrelevant.

Today, I run a leading financial services company with billions of rand running through our bank accounts. Even though the finances of the business are run on a much larger scale, the principles of business – those basic principles that we learnt trading stickers – still power our company. And when I see entrepreneurial ventures failing, or when friends come to me for advice because their business is struggling, it’s almost always because they haven’t got these basics right.

Related: Successful SA Entreps Share Their Most Valuable Business Advice Ever Received

Clarity

One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that if you don’t fully understand how the money is being made, walk away. Whether you are dealing with stickers or financial services, the business principles should be straightforward: money coming in, money going out, and profitability.

Every day, I look at an Excel statement of my company’s forty bank accounts. Every day, I look at the cashflow, and unusual big-ticket items get a note so I know what’s going on. It’s just like that Grade 1 business, only on a bigger scale.

Entrepreneur, thwarted

Once the other kids saw the success of our sticker business, they started to want to get in on the action, so they came to market with their own competing products. At first, we were able to innovate as the competition squeezed our margins and started to impact on our profits. Eventually, the whole situation got completely out of hand and the school banned sticker trading for profit.

While I didn’t become a sticker magnate, the lessons I learnt in Grade 1 remain central to every business I am involved with – get the basics right.

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Leading

How To Handle A Director Who Always Says No

Diverse opinions on a board is a good thing — but is it boosting your business, or hindering growth and decisions?

Carl Bates

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Do you have that director on your board who always says ‘no’? Regardless of what the issue is, regardless of the context, who raises it or whether or not it is indeed a good idea, their response is either a simple ‘no’ or an elongated perspective on why they disagree? It can even feel at times that they are actively working against the company and against the board. Although they obviously do not see it that way.

Experienced directors will have multiple war stories related to this subject. Aspiring directors should be aware of how to approach these situations when they arise and how to avoid becoming the subject of such stories.

Develop a culture of trust, candour and professionalism

A board’s conduct must be characterised by trust, respect, candour, professionalism, accountability, diligence and commitment. It is the board’s collective responsibility to build this culture and to engage with one another in a productive and effective way.

Dissent should be welcomed when it is constructive and engaging. The idea of being the ‘devil’s advocate’ for the sake of it however, is not the best way to approach this. Dissent should be based on a real belief that the issue has not been fully debated or creates a real challenge for the company going forward.

If you have a director who genuinely believes a different path is right for the company, hear them out and engage in the discussion. In my experience, this often opens up an issue or changes a detail that when taken as part of the whole, improves the decision-making outcome for the board and the company.

Related: Contributing In The Boardroom

Remove the politics from the boardroom

At the heart of this issue is often politics. Politics between directors, who are also shareholders or executives. Politics between the ‘new guard’ and the ‘old.’ Regardless of the genesis, politics really do not have a place in the boardroom and directors who engage in it should be called out by the chairman or another senior director.

In local government I have heard stories of councillors who always vote ‘no,’ so that whenever something goes wrong, they can say “I told you so,” and show the public why they should be re-elected. But that is indeed politics. The boardroom is a very different space. It is private and discussions should be confidential.

Board rotation, a simple solution

While the removal of an errant director should never just be left to resolve itself, there is a simple solution that can support the easy removal of the most difficult directors. The challenge is that it requires forward planning prior to the appointment of any new director.

Directors should only ever be appointed for a predefined term, with automatic rotation at the end of that term. This does not stop you from reappointing a director for a further period. It is, however, always easier to ask someone to consider a further term than it is to tell them that their time has come and they should resign from the board.

Having a predefined term for a director essentially ensures an automatic resignation period. A simple rotation policy for directors is not just good governance, it is a practical step you can take to provide a way out of a sticky relationship.

Ultimately the board as a whole must address issues that detract from the board fulfilling its function as and when they arise. A rotation policy might provide an effective backstop. A high-performance board is one that will tackle the issue head-on.

Read next: How Diversity Drives Board Performance

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Leading

The Power Pose: Using Body Language To Lead

Use the way you move and stand and interact with others to become a better entrepreneur and leader.

Howard Feldman

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In 2012, the power pose became a global sensation. A Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy hit a staggering 46 million views and became the second most popular Ted Talk in history. The premise was simple – hold a powerful pose and it will not only affect the way you behave but it will even change your body chemistry. Since the talk, the power pose has met with heavy criticism and been labelled as nothing more than pseudoscience. Fortunately for believers, they were proven right. Amy Cuddy released further research this year and it fundamentally proves that this bold stance works exactly how she said it did back in 2012.

The power pose isn’t something that you’d adopt in a meeting or around the office but the science behind it shows how important it is to pay attention to your body language as it can fundamentally change how you are perceived.

Notice how you are noticed

People spend a lot of time reading one another’s body language and the way a person stands or holds their hands or moves can influence how others see them. It’s very natural to judge someone else’s posture, but what about the way they are judging yours? Few people look at how their body language is affecting the way people engage with them.

Related: [Quiz] How Good Are You At Reading Others In Business?

So, what are you supposed to do?

Fake it until you make it

Want to know how can you adapt to become a better leader? You can fake it.

The power pose isn’t the only way to change your mood. Research has shown that whether you laugh naturally or put on a smile and make yourself laugh, your body still releases the same levels of serotonin.

Whether you are really laughing or just pretending to laugh doesn’t matter – they both have the same impact on your demeanour.

Change how others see you

Think about the pose that every athlete adopts when they win a race or achieve something that’s been physically taxing. They hold their hands outstretched in the air. Even blind athletes hold the same pose. It’s big, it’s bold and it’s a physical manifestation of success.

Now consider the defensive pose. The tight hunched shoulders or inward curve of the spine. These poses immediately make a person look nervous, afraid and lacking in confidence. Like the porcupine curling in on itself for protection.

The same ideas apply to daily business life. While the power pose and the athlete pose are not necessarily a team activity, ensuring that you hold your body upright and with confidence means that you’re conveying an attitude of strength. You come across as confident and capable and positive. You are ready to take on anything and overcome the odds.

By contrast, if you are hunched and withdrawn, you come across as nervous and lacking in confidence and these are not the qualities you want associated with you as an entrepreneur and a leader.

Related: (Slideshow) 5 TED Talks That May Change Your Perspective on Life

Body language for entrepreneurs

  • Shake hands like a hero. The way you shake hands with someone is very significant in terms of establishing equality. Be even, be firm but don’t pull people towards you or turn their hands under your own. This makes them feel like you are trying to establish dominance.
  • Create an atmosphere of openness. Maintain eye contact, say hello to people with warmth while holding a strong posture. A warm and open greeting is essential to establishing trust.
  • Do the power pose for two minutes before any meeting or interview. This will get those chemicals stirring and make you feel confident and in charge.

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