Go to any bookstore and you’ll find countless books on leadership. Search online and you’ll find even more advice on how to be a great leader. How could you ever read it all? Fortunately, certain themes run through all that material.
Here are five characteristics that nearly all the experts agree are highly important if you want to be an effective business leader:
1. You set a vision–and make sure people know what it is.
A company’s vision represents where it will be in the future. A good one inspires everyone in the company, from the top echelons to the front-line, and gets all team members working toward that common goal. Where does the vision come from? That’s right. You. Don’t rely on others to define a vision for you. If you do that, you keep yourself from making the most important decision a leader makes: where the company is going.
Once you’ve defined your company’s vision, you also have to be able to communicate it to everyone–something Steve Jobs was famously good at. If you don’t let people know what the vision is and get them pumped up about it, even the best vision won’t be worth much.
2. You’re a good communicator.
Effective business leaders are, by necessity, great communicators. If you can’t effectively present your ideas to your team members, you’ll have a hard time gaining their support. If you think your communication skills could use some work, make a commitment to improving them.
There are many opportunities available to learn how to effectively communicate: Toastmasters groups, Dale Carnegie courses, consultants, leadership seminars, and many more. The great Athenian orator Demosthenes is a perfect example of an effective communicator who was made, not born. Handicapped in his youth, he became a skilled communicator through hard practice, giving speeches with pebbles in his mouth, trying to speak while running, and trying to make his voice heard over the waves on a shore.
3. You exude excellence.
One of the best predictors of employee performance is the example you, the leader, set each day. If you show up early and are knowledgeable about the operations of the business, your employees will trust you and follow your lead. But if you come to work late and show indifference, your employees will start to think you don’t care about the company–and they’ll, again, follow your example. When you set an example of excellence in everything you do, from your daily habits to the big decisions you make, you send a strong message: This boss knows the business and cares about it. When people see that, they’ll give you their best.
4. You’re customer focused.
Regardless of the size of your company, you’ll struggle to lead if you aren’t intimately familiar with the needs of your customers. When you know what makes your customers tick, you’ll have a better chance of being successful–and of course-correcting when you make a mistake. I know one legendary business leader who, even as CEO, would not allow more than four management layers between himself and the customer. He knew that staying in touch with the customer was necessary for the company’s success, and that too many obstructions between him and the sale would degrade his ability to lead well. He could present products at trade shows just as well as his best salespeople. By knowing the customer’s needs and wants, he kept the company healthy and sent a strong message to all employees that he cared about the business.
5. You’re employee focused.
Have you ever worked for someone who didn’t seem to care much about you, or whom you didn’t trust? Under that person’s leadership, you probably didn’t do the best you could have. I was there at one point in my career, and I learned this fundamental lesson: To be a good leader, you have to show people you care about them and that they can trust you. You prove this through your words and, even more important, through your actions. Simple gestures–stopping to say hello to team members regularly, clearly explaining what a new company initiative means for them–go a long way toward showing that you’re an employee-focused leader.
There they are: five universal attributes of the effective business leader. Keep your sights trained on them and you’ll hit your targets more often, have a more invested team, and gain the respect of colleagues and customers alike.