Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What makes a man a leader?

When we first started the discussions on leadership, I was very excited. I have always found the subject interesting. What makes a man a leader? I didn’t expect to find an answer to such an eternal question but I did hope to get some insight into the thoughts and feelings of the team and bring my own understanding that much further along.

Before we started the team discussions I had my own idea of what made a leader. It just made sense to me that a leader would need the right combination of Charisma and Strength. However it was after the discussions and some thinking I came to the conclusion that a leader must also have the following qualities: Courage, Charm, Intelligence and Tact.

Courage is obviously important in a leader because when difficult decisions need to be made, the leader should be the one making them. However, the leader's courage also is needed so that they can acknowledge mistakes and be honest with the group. One of my previous managers had a rule that team members should not discuss implementation with him during a meeting. Any disagreements with his plans were to be addressed after the meeting in a one-on-one setting. It was his idea that this would put forth a strong sense of team unity for those looking from the outside in....however; it had a devastating affect on the group. Since he lacked the courage to say something that might not be correct and have to own up to it later, the team lost respect for him.

Charm is important because, on some level, the person that is following you has to like you. They need to be pleased with what you do/say and thus they want to follow. It is this trait that helps leaders emerge from the group where there is no clear leader.

Intelligence may be the most important of the traits but the most deceiving. While it is important for a leader to be a smart person, the leader’s true intelligence should be in the domain and about the team. The leader should have a very focused and clear vision of what is needed for success and how to go about it. They should not be insecure about their level of intelligence in the domain. The leader should know his/her team. It should not be uncommon for the leader to be intimate with his followers. They should be aware of what each member is looking for in terms of satisfaction and praise. They should know how to motivate and inspire the team as a whole and each member on their own. The leader should talk and listen. The leader should be smart in these areas above all other areas, for the team is the instrument that the leader uses to accomplish goals.

Finally, I think it is important to include Tact as a characteristic of leadership. Tact is the ability to speak or act with others without offending. I happen to like this quality in leaders. This is the part of the leader that enables them to tell their followers that they need to work harder or be smarter. The trick is they do it without offending. A truly difficult task but an important one. In the military, generals do not need this trait because the authority is absolute. No need to worry about feelings when your followers have no choice. But when you are on a team in a professional environment, the leader does not necessarily have that authority (and most times doesn’t want it) but he/she may still want to talk to you about the work that you are doing. Tact helps make that conversation productive and easy.

As with most things, there are characteristics that a follower will have, the ying to this yang. But they are beyond the scope of this.

To sum up…Leaders make sure that team works together well. They facilitate, empower, teach, and inspire their followers. Using the traits mentioned above, they interact with their team and make everyone better.

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