Leading a team can be exhilarating — a career high. But it can also be a challenge. The (oft-contradictory) advice around getting it just right has sparked a cottage industry of management books, seminars and coaching methods.
But are there things that a good leader simply can’t do without? Are there certain styles or traits that are must-haves for managers — or aspiring managers? It’s a topic several LinkedIn Influencers weighed in on this week. Here’s what two of them had to say.
Jack Welch, executive chairman at the Jack Welch Management Institute
“It’s business’s biggest dirty little secret that in most companies, most people would rather hide or spin the truth than share it, ” wrote Welch in his post Getting This Wrong Could Kill Your Career. That makes it hard for everyone to bring the problem to the surface and fix it, he added. So what’s the missing link that managers and others must have to lead and excel? “…it’s straight talk — candour,” wrote Welch.
True candour is difficult to find in many workplaces. “That’s human nature, of course,” he wrote. “We all have an innate instinct that tells us from a young age to prevent awkwardness and avoid hurting feelings. Or maybe we’re afraid of the very real organisational consequences of being candid.”
Some companies, after all, don’t welcome openness, wrote Welch.
“But, assuming your organisation wants it, getting candour right — with your reports, your peers, and your boss — is a skill that can make or break your career,” he wrote.
So how can a leader get this right with his or her team?
“The best approach is to have quarterly reviews where you sit down and say, ‘Here’s what you’re doing well and here’s what you need to do better’,” he wrote. “The word ‘need’ is very important because people tend to listen to what they’re good at and they might not hear the tougher message if you soften it too much.”
Welch advised avoiding human resources forms or pages of documentation. “It can be as simple as a handwritten note on a little card with the two columns above,” he wrote. But, it’s crucial to do these often, at least twice a year, he wrote.
“As a leader, the more you can give candid feedback, the more everybody wins. You win because you’re not harbouring [frustration] and becoming passive aggressive,” Welch wrote. “The other person also benefits because they get what they need to improve.
“Candour isn’t easy, but it shouldn’t be harsh or blatantly direct. Getting that right can propel your career to new heights... Getting it wrong could kill it.”
Roger W Ferguson, Jr, president and CEO at TIAA-CREF
“A recent Amazon.com search turned up more than 140,000 books on the topic of leadership. It seems there is an endless amount to say about this important topic,” wrote Ferguson in his post You Can’t Lead if No One Wants to Follow. “But the main thing you need to know is that leadership is really all about ‘followership’, or getting others to want to follow you.”
Followership isn’t about the title you hold at the office and it’s not something you can force on people. “Rather, it’s about inspiring people,” Ferguson wrote.
He points to four characteristics of leaders who do this well.
“Expertise. You must have the right degree of expertise about your organisation and the issues it is confronting, or you will never have credibility. You don’t see many amateurs among the ranks of leaders, because people want leaders who base their decisions on more than just gut reactions,” he wrote. “Whether you are an engineer, teacher or chef, you need a deep, rock-solid understanding of your discipline. But you should also develop a broader expertise — on the organisation in which you’re working and on your industry or sector as a whole.”
“Appeal. George Clooney-style charisma is nice, but… I’m referring to the kind of appeal that stems from attributes associated with strong leadership, namely, the ability to: make the big decisions; effectively communicate those decisions and articulate the thinking behind them; think both tactically and strategically; and see the big picture,” Ferguson wrote.
“Empathy. Effective leaders recognise that people have lives outside of work and sometimes need support and flexibility to balance competing demands and responsibilities,” he wrote. “If you treat people with empathy, they may very well follow you to the ends of the earth; if you don’t, they will never line up behind you in the first place.”
“Fortitude. Effective leaders are the calm in the storm during the bad times, and they stay grounded in the midst of the good times. They are the shock absorbers of their organisations, tempering both the highs and the lows,” he wrote. “Leaders with fortitude also know how to take criticism with a grain of salt.”