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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Are you leadership material?

Do you know yourself?

We, humans, are very complex creatures. Every single one of us is different in one way or the other. In spite of our differences, we are excellent at creating social environments for living and working together, because we are naturally made to live in societies, groups, tribes but definitely not in isolation. However, this very social nature of the humans tend to create conflicts - small or big - quite frequently in our daily lives. These conflicts are created mainly due to the differences in our priorities or our ways of approaching the same problem differently. How each one of us handle these conflicts define our personalities. Now, take a moment and ask yourself how you have handled your most recent conflict in your professional or private life, and then assess, if your approach was appreciated by your counterpart or made that conflict even difficult to solve? The way you handled that particular conflict will help you understand your personality. Think about your personality.

Can you define what is it like?
Do you understand it?
Do you know yourself?

Your leadership potential

I know that all of this sounds very philosophical, and many would think that this thinking about the personality thing is just a time waster. However, our personality, which is in fact our opinion on how we should handle situations around us, is by far the most influential and vital part of our leadership potential. Any leadership involves interacting with people, many people; and our personality tells us how do we manage these interactions. Period.

In my professional career, I have experienced many personality traits of the leaders usually demonstrated by my superiors. I’m sure you have too. If you ask me to shrink all those experiences down to find out the very basic building blocks of the leadership potential, I would say that it all drills down to three fundamental personality traits - empathy, respect & guidance.

Let me elaborate.

Empathy is about feeling what others around you feel. In my opinion, it is the most important personality trait for anyone in the leadership role. It’s about understanding people that work for you on a more personal level. For any great leader, empathy must be on the top priority, as it helps establishing that personal connection with your team members that goes a long way and helps establishing trust. In order to lead effectively, a leader must be perceived by his team as an “always there caretaking” team member, not a “commander or dictator”. If your team views you as a go-to person for open & honest discussions about their issues, then it means that they feel comfortable around you. Being perceived like that helps gain the trust of the team, without which no leadership can survive.

Respect is about giving space and listening to your team. Empathy helps you win respect. Although, to be respected is an absolute vital ingredient for a leader (perhaps a separate topic), I am talking more about leaders giving respect to their team members. Many leaders develop a habit of thinking that what they believe is the best way to go, and they must prove it to their subordinates. As a result, they tend to disregard the opinions of their team members, sometimes even without listening, merely to prove their authority on them. I have been in numerous professional team discussions, where the better solution is disregarded only because it came from a less experienced colleague, or a senior colleague is not happy about it. Happening of such events in a team in the presence of a leader shows personality trait of the leader that is very disrespectful toward the team members and ultimately results in individuals becoming demotivated, which is the single most biggest productivity killer for any team! It is easy to end up disrespecting without noticing it. It can happen by not responding to emails & questions asked or not allowing your team members to challenge your thoughts and present their own or being evidently biased toward a single individual in your team or not appreciating contributions and saying thank you or being unavailable at the time when the team or an individual needs you or not trusting the team’s ability and so on. In the end, giving respect to your team will bring the same level of respect back to you. Showing empathy is how great leaders begin to give respect!

Guidance is about connecting the right dots at the right time. It is about providing focus to the team and seeing what your team cannot see. It’s about understanding the big picture, and helping your team to understand it too. Individuals in any team are usually focused on their specific objectives. It’s a job of a leader to monitor those specific objectives of each individual and in the end help them connect their specific objectives together to deliver the bigger objective of the team. This is not an easy job to do. Out of many skills, it requires at least that the leader has a clear focus, good cross-functional exposure, understanding of the overall strategic vision, awareness of the abilities of team members & quick decision making ability. I have seen managers in my career, who indulge themselves into so many different topics that they become completely unaware of the activities of their team members. No one can do everything alone. Any good leader is bound to provide guidance to their teams and help them focus on their goals. People expect to learn from their leaders and this learning is only possible through clear guidance.

Be your own judge

Empathy, respect and guidance are the core traits of a successful leadership. These traits require you to believe that your best strength is your people - your team. They help you establish a line between ego & knowledge. They teach you how to establish trust and rely on the strengths of others that you do not posses yourself. Anyone having these three personality traits has a potential to lead and drive change.

Think you can lead? If so, do you have these personality traits?

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