When we look at the leaders we most admire, we see that leadership comes in many forms. Mahatma Gandhi stood at five feet, five inches tall. He was soft-spoken. He didn’t have a domineering personality. Yet he commanded respect and admiration because he led by example, best exemplified by the image of him making his own clothes.
Gandhi’s leadership style wouldn’t work for everyone. But that’s the whole point. The most successful leaders find a style that (1) naturally suits them best, and (2) which people respond to.
I find that in striving to be the best leader I can be for our 17,000 talented Mindtree Minds, it’s a continuous balance between the two. Here are some general traits that most effective leaders share, and which I try to exemplify.
Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Someone who gives up the first time they fail at something will never make it as a leader. It’s most difficult to persevere when you’ve completed 90 percent of the journey. The last 10 percent is where many of the biggest pitfalls lie. Effective leaders find a way to motivate themselves and/or their teams to push through those unexpected obstacles to success. Yet there is a thin line separating perseverance and pig headedness. It would be a shame to give up before that line, but you also don’t want to push past that point. The wisest leaders know where that line is.
It used to be that even less competent leaders could still get people to follow them simply through their personal charisma. Those days are over – especially in areas like business, academia and medicine. We hold leaders accountable more than ever before. Most people – especially in the younger generations – have no tolerance for leaders who have been “faking it until making it” to this point. Leaders earn their respect by demonstrating a deep expertise, either domain or functional (or both). Passion and deep, professional expertise in the necessary areas are what inspire people to work hard and support a leader.
“Understanding how you can use your unique abilities to bring out the best in those around you is the mark of a true leader.”
People breaking up via text message, giving performance feedback through online appraisal forms, and setting an agenda through email have all become the norm. Yet virtually every leader has experienced how these electronic means of communications are a poor substitute for face-to-face, transparent dialogue.
Leaders need to set an example, being comfortable providing feedback and critiques that may feel uncomfortable to do in person. Face-to-face conversations open the door for a productive back and forth of ideas.
You also have more control over the tone in which feedback is given. Conflicts often escalate due to misunderstandings created by written words and we are typically more comfortable writing things we would not say to the person.
It’s not just giving criticism face-to-face that makes a difference. If you really want to motivate someone, try giving them verbal praise in person. This does two things. It makes the team member feel like you truly value them, of course. But it also sends a message: you expect that team member to continue performing at a high level. Taking the time to give positive feedback in person is strong motivation to keep earning those accolades.
A leader needs to be able to inspire those they are leading to run with the vision or plan they have created. They need to clearly communicate their goals and objective and outline what is expected from others.
Complexity is increasing logarithmically. People are lost and need leaders who can be that guiding light that streamlines and simplifies ideas that may be overwhelming. Leaders need to be able to absorb the complexity of a situation and communicate what it means in its simplest terms, with a clear call to action. This enables leaders to rally the troops around their vision, amidst all of the complexity.
Remaining True to Self:
The job of the leader is to be the voice of many, so it can be easy to lose your true self. Mental and physical wellness are an important part of leadership. A leader is expected to be full of energy throughout a hopefully lengthy career. The only way to make that a possibility is to take care of oneself first. Pace yourself and be sure to put time into your own health, whether that be exercising, maintaining a healthy diet or investing in a hobby.
You and your employees need a work-life balance. A stressful home environment leads to more stress at work. Take time to make sure your home life is in a good place, so that your life at work will be more productive and enjoyable. Take time for yourself and your loved ones and allow your employees to do the same.
All leaders face similar struggles. Leading comes with a lot of hard work and demands the support of many individuals. Understanding how you can use your unique abilities to bring out the best in those around you is the mark of a true leader.