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What makes a great business leader?
Ask 10 different entrepreneurs, and you’re likely to get 10 different answers. However, this doesn’t mean that no one can agree on what makes a great leader. It simply means that many attributes in the business world go into quality leadership.
There are, however, a few attributes that seem to come up more often than others. By focusing on improving these attributes in yourself, you can more effectively lead your team in a way that improves motivation, productivity and retention while reducing the threats of burnout and toxicity.
1. Great leaders focus on productivity
Few terms are perhaps more dreaded in the workforce than “office politics.” Despite this, studies have found that over half of workers believe that playing workplace politics is key to getting a desired promotion. Rather than focusing on meaningful efforts, employees often engage in petty battles that drag down productivity and increase stress.
Unfortunately, their leaders are often to blame. Creating a culture of favoritism, such as how certain businesses have a so-called “boys’ club,” breeds resentment and distrust.
Leaders may feel their actions are simply a way of increasing friendships with workers who they naturally like. But they are only doing their company a disservice. All too often, such relationships allow poor performers and toxic employees to gain power in the workplace, subsequently driving out top talent.
A Gallup overview of why great managers are a rarity in the workforce specifically called out this behavior, stating that great managers must “make decisions based on productivity, not politics.” This is ultimately what should matter most when considering promotions and other key management decisions.
Emphasizing productivity diminishes toxic politics to create a more inclusive and profitable business environment. Favoritism is always harmful in the office, even more so when a person’s actual contributions to the company have no impact on how they are treated.
2. Great leaders set strong communication boundaries
Communication — or a lack thereof — is often a make-or-break issue in leadership. Good communication skills help employees feel valued, create a culture of accountability and ensure that everyone has the information they need to perform to the best of their abilities. Incredibly, a report from CMSWire reveals that 97 percent of employees believe that communications have a daily impact on their tasks at work.
In her book “The Three Chairs,” Dr. Karyn Gordon writes, “Great leaders get to the point and focus on solving problems, not wasting time blaming and discussing the issue repeatedly. They listen, get to the point right away, and stay on one topic so that it can be resolved. […] Great leaders clarify to their team their expectations regarding the timing of information-sharing. When they delegate tasks, they give a deadline for response, so that the recipient knows whether the work needs to be done immediately, or if they have until, say, Friday to provide a deliverable.”
The ability to communicate clearly and directly is essential regardless of whether you speak to employees in person or via email. Adopting tools that facilitate communications outside of in-person meetings (such as Slack or Microsoft Teams) can further enhance your effectiveness and agility by keeping everyone on the same page, even if your team is geographically dispersed.
In addition to clearly communicating important information, strong leaders should set expectations for how and what their employees should communicate. Understanding who should have access to what information can be just as crucial for keeping everything running smoothly.
3. Great leaders aren’t set in their ways
In an interview with the Harvard Business School, Harvard professor and author Rosabeth Moss Kanter explains that great leaders “… resist distilling their work into just one thing! Excellent leaders see nuances, contradictions, possibilities for error, counter-trends, and opposing views. In short, they listen, include many viewpoints, learn from critics, and remain aware that trends could shift quickly. And then they are better armed when they act quickly and decisively.”
Great leaders aren’t content with the status quo. Instead, they are comfortable with the fact that they don’t know everything and often aren’t the most intelligent person in the room.
This humility makes them more likely to listen to their employees and others in their circle of influence. It also makes them more actively engaged in learning to improve their abilities and their company’s output.
A sense of curiosity and a desire to improve one’s performance also sets a valuable example to the rest of the team. Not only will employees be more willing to share their insights and opinions, but they will be better motivated to take on self-improvement efforts that further enhance business results.
Take the time to develop your leadership attributes
Developing these and other business leadership attributes isn’t something that happens overnight. Furthermore, the previously-cited Gallup survey concluded that only one in 10 people have the right combination of talent needed to manage other employees.
While that may sound bleak, it’s important to remember that leadership attributes can be honed and developed over time, just like other talents and abilities. Consistent practice and a genuine effort to improve your skills in these areas will help you become a more effective leader, one who lifts your team members to their full potential.