What Great Leaders Do

'What Great Leaders Do' - I don't buy the greatness of 'Great' word, it is simply a search keyword :) 

Whenever I think what leaders do, few flashbacks always help me, when I heard following advice from my mentors.
  • 'Let us see how we can solve this problem yours way'
  • 'Show people what you think, so they know what you think, and your management style'
  • 'Understanding context, Respecting everyone, Integrity in words and actions are important ingredients to manage the talent'
Adding some observations and learning, I experienced so far. Promising, will not make it a long list, but explanation for each point could be long. 

1. Ensure that People feel safe

This is the first priority for the leaders. They reflect this in all of their actions, and words. They work on it day in, day out. 

Why does this has to be a day in, day out job. Because once you are in leadership role, every action impact the masses. The way you communicate, listen and respond, write emails, body language, how you respond to conflicts, how you react to mistakes and failures, all these are followed closely by the team. Every single action is a clue for team, to deduce that how safe they are around you.

Why does feeling safe so important. Let us understand it from neurological perspective. 

When Human being faces threat (physical or mental), our self-defense mechanism kicks in and make us ready for 'fight or flight'. Result, arteries get tightened and tensed to pump more blood to body elements. Heart works rapidly and hard. When body is working so hard to manage the threat, naturally our brain can not focus on creativity, executive functions or social engagements. 

Hence, if team is not feeling safe, we loose Creativity, Executive thought process and most importantly Social Engagements which is the basis of team work. Loosing these means, loosing the team and organizational goals as well.

Next, important point is how to ensure this safety net.

A simplistic option is, say and believe that 'it is ok to make mistakes'. Of course as long as we are learning from mistakes. The day your team believes that you believe in this, they will become more transparent, will start sharing ideas, and will start taking risks to experiment and innovate. The day they believe that they are not judged for accepting mistakes, they will start taking ownership.

Not being judged, for every mistake or failure, has a big impact on the way team places itself.

It is also about practicing high moral standards and ethics by leader, which increase team's confidence in leader. It is about doing 'Right' things, even if it takes choosing tougher path. It is not about having 'guts' to do the right things - if we are not at war. It is more about having stamina, persistence and intentions to keep moving for right things.

What more a team can cherish than knowing that their leader always tries to do right thing, which means s/he will not do wrong for team as well (another safety net).

Now these actionable items could be quite contextual. How to decide what is Right and what is not. What is morally high standard and what is not. This needs another book itself to discuss or may be life time efforts to understand. 

To start with, one thing  which leaders do is 'Walking the Talk, and Talking the Walk'. And this helps people around to feel safe. Reason, they see what it is. Safety comes from knowing the unknown.

To solve puzzle of moral standards and ethics, one easy approach is to be connected with your values in your actions. 'But how do I know my values'. I like the practice to visualize what you would like to hear from people at your funeral or more importantly, if this is your last day, what would you like to cherish if you look back. These practices helps to understand your values, i.e. 'what you value most'.

2. Invest in People and Trust them

This is the Most important 'work item' for leaders all the days, all the time. 

Leaders believe in 'We', not in 'I'. Leaders know that it is team which delivers, not a star performer, not even leader. Leaders enjoy mentoring, coaching and grooming people. They love to do these, and breathe these all the time. 

Investing in people, grooming them to right level is beginning of the journey. Result blooms when we start trusting and empowering them to take actions. 'Trust' is the key for actual growth. 'Investing in People' can nourish the skills, however, 'Trusting people' put them on path to deliver great results for Organization, and for themselves. It takes them forward on growth path.

Providing clear directions, clarity of goals and then grooming team to self-organize their own time and work is another important trait of leaders. This is like providing playground after initial training, which 'actually' makes them great players. This also helps in empowering people, who are closest to the actions, to take real decisions (which are usually better).

Coaching, mentoring, keep grooming to next level, trusting and empowering team to take real decisions and actions are the keys for building high performing teams. It bumps up the productivity of Organization.

It also opens the great potential for growth for everyone around. Leaders don't feel threatened with growth of people, rather they feel thrilled. Giving power is the great way to build real power over time.

It may be a thankless job sometimes, and not the easy one for sure, but a great trait of Leaders. 

3. Understand Emotions and Are Empathetic 

Being emotionally mature is another important traits of leaders. This is probably the most difficult as well.

It may not be right to say that Leaders do it naturally. Human emotions are as complex as life. However, leaders are conscious about importance of emotions, and its effect on every aspect of work and life. They put conscious efforts to understand and learn more about it. 

They keep training themselves with every new emotional hit, or challenge and scenario.

Leaders try not to react. They train themselves to listen, process the information, take pause, process (multiple loops may be) and respond with empathy. Here we get another 'keyword', empathy. What is empathy.

'Empathy' is ability to understand another person's experience, perspective and feelings. And importantly, it is also about acknowledging and sharing the feelings.

How to be good in Empathy (and EI - Emotional Intelligence). It starts with being self-aware. You need be able to show empathy to yourselves at first. You need to understand your emotions first. That is a great playground for leaders to practice, experiment all sort of techniques. More you get skilled in 'Being Self Aware', more you gain Emotional Intelligence. Application of this learning comes in form of empathy, means being considerate about other emotions, feelings and perspective. Perspective is a sum collection of our viewpoints, which is largely driven by our experiences (which defines our emotions).

Empathy is like being self-aware, being aware about other's emotions and circumstances, continuously keep scanning about vital sign of emotion movements, understand these to understand the perspective, and to act accordingly then. 

There could be significant business cost when Leaders lack Empathy. Lack of empathy could be the prime reason for major tsunami in corporate world, for many of the conflicts, in all sort of organizations. 

Emotional intelligence is not about keeping people happy. It is more like a data gathering tool by keeping your emotions in control, being neutral in observing, gather information as it is, and then have an opportunity to utilize it. You may choose not to act immediately or can even choose to take advantage of it. Or you can act compassionately. 

What is this compassion now.

Compassion is actually the most important tool in Leader's toolkit, which helps to utilize all these intelligence, knowledge and awareness. 'Compassion' is the intent to contribute to the happiness and well being of others, and that's where it become an important attribute for being Leader. Leaders try using EI, for the benefit and well being of people and Organization.

Remember, Compassion plays an important role in this whole cycle. 

I found following two points also a common traits of leaders, will write more some other day. 
#Create a sense of connection and Belonging
#Promote Learning

Are these traits naturally gifted, do Leaders behave like this all the time. May not be. We are trainable for good and bad both, so is for the leadership skills. Practice these more. Find your reason, trigger, motivation to remind you and practice these more often. Here I buy the 'Greatness' of Great word. Great Leaders could be who practiced these traits so much, that it becomes natural or a habit for them.

What's about great communication, great charisma, and great confidence and so on. Ahh.. we are talking about 'showing' Leadership traits now, do another google search please :) 

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