Leadership only exists when there is followership. Leaders without followers aren’t really leaders. To gain followers, potential leaders must stand for something. A long-time executive coach says that something must center on unwavering standards.
“Successful leadership is the product of skill and education, but the most important hallmarks of great leaders are the standards they uphold,” writes Lolly Daskal, author of The Leadership Gap. Compromising their standards can lead to the downfall of leaders, she says.
In a recent blog post, Daskal lists 10 traits successful leaders don’t tolerate. They include inertia, poor communication, mediocrity, ambivalence, toxic relationships, dishonesty, disrespect, fear, negativity and lack of integrity. Here are a few of her comments:
- “The best leaders put communication at the heart of their leadership. Their communication is timely, clear and appropriate. They expect the same of those around them.”
- “Successful leaders don’t have the time or patience for indecision. To achieve success, they understand you must put aside fear and doubt, pick a course and stick to it. Their decisions are grounded in knowledge and strategic thought, but they don’t waffle or create subcommittees to examine every detail first.”
- “Successful leaders understand dishonesty destroys reputation and, ultimately, success.”
- “Successful leaders avoid negativity because they know it can only hold them back. Nothing good comes from negativity; it only breed more negativity.”
- “Successful leaders understand the importance of integrity. Anyone around them who lacks integrity compromises their work, their team and their leadership. They lead with character in everything they do, and they expect others to do the same.”
- “The reality of leadership is that yesterday’s results become today’s status quo. Leaders need to be constantly moving forward and prepared to seize opportunities. Inaction is incompatible with strong leadership.”
Leadership is situational. Leading soldiers up a hill in battle takes a different kind of leadership than convincing a few colleagues to give up good jobs to be part of a startup. Daskal’s point is that some leadership characteristics aren’t situational. Followers need to trust the leaders they follow, and trust is built on some nearly universal standards.
Daskal’s list of leadership standards is a good one. However, two critical traits are missing – humility and empathy. These traits are necessary because leadership, like life, doesn’t occur on a straight line.
Leaders make mistakes. They need to be self-confident and humble enough to admit when they make mistakes – and apologize when appropriate. As the saying goes, people can forgive a mistake, but not the cover-up. Admitting an error, perhaps paradoxically, can build trust. Avoiding responsibility usually erodes trust.
Leaders make mistakes. They need to be self-confident and humble enough to admit when they make mistakes – and apologize when appropriate. As the saying goes, people can forgive a mistake, but not the cover-up. Admitting an error, perhaps paradoxically, can build trust.
Leaders can be placed on a pedestal. They also can come to see themselves as above others. The truth is leaders come in all heights, in all genders, in all races. The more you elevate yourself or allow yourself to be elevated, the more likely it is you will lose sight of your followers. And, the more likely it is your followers will lose sight of you. You are only a leader if people follow you.
Leaders are made of flesh. They have achieved success, possess the trappings of power and enjoy a life others envy. But they can and do feel pain, which should be their guide in empathizing with the pain others feel, especially their followers. A phone call, a note, a kind gesture or some other authentic expression of empathy show character, the kind of personal character that many people expect from and hope for in their leaders.
Leadership is a contact sport. You need skin in the game, not ego. People will instinctively follow leaders who are the first ones to roll up their sleeves to tackle a problem. Those leaders won’t have to utter a word. Their followers will know what to do.