Two Leadership Traits all Great Leaders Need

Leadership requires many important skills and practices, but two of the most critical might surprise you.

Jessica Stillman, a London-based freelance writer, makes this interesting point in an Inc. Magazine post, “The Incredibly Boring Trait That All Great Leaders Need”:

“According to Google, one of the most important traits of great leaders is a very dull one: simple predictability.”

Leadership

Photo via Paul Farley, Flickr

Predictability

If a leader is consistent, employees are familiar with his or her objectives, short-term goals, and decision process. They know that, within certain parameters, they can act and make decisions independently.

“If you can predict what your boss is going to do that means you don’t have to spend as much energy managing that relationship, dealing with their meddling, and justifying your actions,” Stillman writes.

That means workers can focus on doing their jobs.

“Psychologists call this feeling of freedom to do your job as you see fit ‘autonomy’ and have found in studies that not only does autonomy make employees happy, it also makes them more productive. So much for the benefits of the mercurial genius as manager.”

Humility

In another Inc. post, “The Unexpected Trait That Moves Leaders From Good to Great,” she observes:

“it turns out, what we imagine we want from a leader and what actually makes one effective in real life are often at odds. Now a new study has confirmed what other researchers have been insisting—quieter, less-remarked-on traits determine the success of those at the top more often than highly visible qualities such as charm and conviction.”

The new study, published in Administrative Science Quarterly, discovered that leaders’ humility is essential when it comes to high-functioning teams. The study’s authors provide this working definition:

“Humility is manifested in self-awareness, openness to feedback, appreciation of others, low self-focus, and pursuit of self-transcendence. Humble people willingly seek accurate self-knowledge and accept their imperfections while remaining fully aware of their talents and abilities. They appreciate others’ positive worth, strengths, and contributions and thus have no need for entitlement or dominance over others.”

Stillman includes a summary of the study’s findings published in a PsyBlog article, “The Most Surprising Attribute of Great Leaders:

“CEOs who were humble were more likely to empower the top management team, which in turn enabled the management team to be better integrated. The empowering organizational climate then trickled down through the middle managers which increased their job performance, commitment and engagement with work.”

She cites a talk by former U.S. nuclear submarine commander Captain David Marquet:

“He urges those who really want to bring the best out of their teams to quit following unhelpful stereotypes of ‘leadership’ and do everything possible to empower their people instead.”

In his talk, Marquet relates that he wasn’t trained to operate the submarine he was assigned to, but his employees were. His employees’ advice to the captain: “You shut up.”

The captain was surprised at first, but realized they were right. Now, instead of giving orders, he conveys intent (the desired end result). Instead of the captain ordering to submerge, an employee would say, “Captain, I intend to submerge the ship.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Give employees clear objectives and the tools to make decisions, and you can give them control. After all, as the frontline staff closest to the work, they’re best equipped.

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