“Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Knowing it’s tax season right now this phrase may seem especially true. But regardless of the time of year, I tend to agree with the notion that most things in life are unknown. At the same time, I also recognize that there are many moments throughout life that are experienced by many, cyclical, or inevitable. A great example of one such concept, and one that has been top of mind for me as we grow the team at Plenty, is the nature of leadership.
Leadership is present everywhere; from family to friends to coworkers, we are constantly in a state of leading or being led. I would go so far as to say that every person in the world (yes, everyone) has encountered many instances of leadership. The problem is that many of these experiences involve ineffective leaders.
This isn’t to say that many inspiring, motivating, and effective leaders are not out there, because they are. Rather, it’s a realization that the number of poor leaders often outweighs the number of great ones. Whether this is a result of our tendency to promote people based on their tenure rather than their aptitude to lead, a lack of leadership training, or a skewed idea of what it takes to be a successful leader I’m not sure. But one thing is clear, we know what great leadership looks and feels like, and just as easily, can pinpoint what bad leadership looks and feels like.
Finding these great leaders may feel like trying to find the metaphorical needle in a haystack, but the truth is there is an abundance of leadership talent out there – we just need to know what to look for. So whether you work for a nonprofit organization, a Fortune 500 company, or are self-employed here are some of the most important qualities to embody as, or look for in, a strong leader.
An Ability to Listen
Great leaders are invested in listening to a variety of people, from the C-suite to the most junior members of their team. They recognize that great ideas can surface at any level of the organization and are dedicated to creating a culture where these ideas are welcome.
This knack for listening is paired with an ability to communicate using emotional intelligence – the ability to understand the people, reasoning, and emotions involved in decision-making and collaborating processes. Strong leaders are able to observe and respond to all of these factors in an appropriate and personal manner while still driving the business forward.
The Capacity to Motivate Others
A true leader's passion for their mission, cause, or organization is genuine and contagious. Real passion, communicated effectively, can be a tremendous tool for motivating others too. After all, if people don't believe that the person leading them cares about the mission or goal at hand, they may begin to wonder why they should care either.
Great leadership involves spreading enthusiasm, inviting participation, and celebrating the achievement of goals. When others are inspired, their passion and enthusiasm grows and becomes contagious too.
The Gift of Storytelling
Great leaders are able to transform ordinary tasks, metrics, and goals into stories of recognition and impact. Yes, people care that the organization raised 10% more this year than last, but they also care that the extra money provided drinking water to thousands of people in need, or that hundreds of new customers received a valuable product and superb customer service.
To put it simply, your supporters and customers are not the only ones who care about the impact your organization is making - your team cares too. Which is why exceptional leaders know how to weave numbers and other mundane (but important) information into captivating narratives that recognize the hard work that has been done and the progress that has been made.
A Knack for Reasoning and Making Decisions
Leaders are often called upon to make difficult decisions that require them to carefully consider all relevant information and potential outcomes. This takes time and focus. However, deliberating too long before making a decision can hinder progress and dampen morale.
Leaders that work effectively are able to evaluate every situation, put sound reasoning to work, and quickly choose a course of action. A big part of adopting this type of mentality is opening yourself up to change and risk. The two go hand in hand, and thrive in environments built on experimentation.
The difference between an organization with effective leadership and one with ineffective leadership is often stark. Poor leadership squashes morale, heightens distrust, and makes people wonder why they support the organization at all. Excellent leadership, by contrast, inspires enthusiasm, loyalty, and positive action. Make a mental list of some of the most effective leaders in history, and you may be struck by how different they are from one another. Look deeper, however, and you'll see that they all share critical core skills and characteristics that can be put to work to solve an enormous range of problems.