What does good leadership look like?

December 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

I think “good” leadership looks different to different people. Maybe it’s a strong person who puts the hammer down. Maybe it’s a compassionate person who has lots of interaction with their staff. Maybe it’s someone with a vision and a way to get everyone on board with that vision.

I think, though, that there are some traits of a good leader that are universal, and I’m not exactly sure that some of them can be taught or learned. I think the best leaders simply have these qualities as part of their personality.

Genuine – if the people you lead don’t think you are genuine about what you say, you’ll have a hard time getting them to follow. Someone who is genuine earns the respect of the people who work for them and with them. They do this by backing up their words with similar actions, or by acting without speaking. Someone who is a “people person” doesn’t have to tell you that. They show you by the way they interact with others on a daily basis.

Someone who is genuine truly believes in what they are doing. They don’t do it just to make things look pretty, or because it makes them look good. They do it because they believe their actions are going to make their workplace better, more efficient, and make everyone come together. It is pretty easy for people to tell if you’re genuine. Humans are pretty adept at being able to see through someone pretty quickly. Remember, actions speak louder than words.

Compassion – not all leaders have this quality. For me, personally, at least in education, it is critical to the success of a school or district. In school districts, we are compassionate by nature. Children come to us from circumstances we may never know, experience, or understand, and in order to be able to serve those children, we must have leaders who understand what it means to be compassionate, and treat their staff with the same compassion and understanding that we expect our teachers to treat their students. Compassion, to me, means listening, and remembering. It is not something I do because I feel like I have to. It is something I do because it is who I am.

Listening means you’re not just listening in the moment and asking questions about the current conversation. It’s coming back to a conversation a day or two later, asking how things are going, remembering what was said before. Remembering people’s names, remembering things your employees told you they were going to do outside of work, and genuinely (there’s that word again) caring about those things. Compassion  also means that the rules within the organization can’t be hard and fast. Letting someone leave 5 minutes early before a holiday when you know they have a long drive ahead of them isn’t compassion. Especially if that person works their tail off.

Rewarding hard work by being flexible is another trait of a good leader. If you have someone who stays late or works through lunch or works on things from home after hours, being flexible with them is a nice way to say thank you.

And speaking of saying “thank you,” you should. A lot. People like to be thanked for the work they do, even if it is just doing their job. Saying “please” is also something that should be worked into your everyday vocabulary. Yes, you are the boss. Yes, people will do what you ask because you are the boss and for no other reason, but it is just good manners to say “please” and “thank you” when people are doing things for you.

Something else I’m a big proponent of is knowing what other people do and being able to do it yourself. I’m not saying that you have to be an expert at every job your staff does, but it helps if you know what they do, show that you’re willing to help, and ask questions that show you’re genuinely interested in the work they do. And if you don’t know anything about a job a person does, ask them to explain it to you. It shows that employee that you want to understand and that their work is valuable to you. Be child-like. Observe. Ask questions. When you do that, you’ll see the pride your employees have in their work.

These are just a few of the initial qualities I think of when I think about a good leader. I’ll follow up with some more, and maybe some anecdotes, later in the week.

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