The most important traits of quality leaders are integrity, good management and people skills, the ability to see the future (need or market) and communicate that vision to their team and others. Obviously, some domain/industry expertise in the areas you are executing. Some may call this “Selling the vision” and that can be to employees, investors, vendors or anyone. A leader aligns all parties needed to proceed forward, including all stakeholders.
I define leadership as when you do not have to look back because you know people are following you because they want to and believe in accomplishing the mission. Not because they have to, or because of a corporate hierarchy. Shackelton's Adventures is a great story on leadership, I recommend everyone read or view the documentary. He saved all those lives on a disastrous voyage through strong leadership.
Leadership is very different from management. Managers coerce people with salary, bonus, rules, objectives and many other things. Leaders sell their vision and get people to want to follow them. Leaders speak to many at once, while management is a one-on-one interaction. Leaders are selling a future, mission and "why" (See Simon Sinek video on YouTube).
Leaders do not need authority because people decide to follow them because they believe in their mission, cause, and integrity.
When I go into a client company to do Organizational Development (OD/OCM) I have zero authority, but within a day or two everyone wants to follow me and the plan because I have communicated why it is good for them personally and the company. Good leaders set up win-win relationships. I take the time to tell them about myself, why this project is good for all (including them) and to develop trust. And they trust I have the expertise to execute that plan and will treat people fairly.
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Here is a list of key differences between leaders and managers to ponder:
Plans Sets direction and communicates a vision of the future
Instructs employees Coaches and encourages employees to grow
Sets specific objectives (SMART/MBO/OKR) Communicates a vision
Thinks about now to 1 year Has their eye on 3 to 5 years out
Assigns tasks Fosters innovation and rule breaking
Now, both managers and leaders are needed to build any good company. And one person can perform both, switching modes as needed between manager and leader. There are obvious time to lead versus manage. For example, the annual strategic planning process is for leadership, while the monthly Management By Objective (or OKR) meetings are for management. Being a good manager will earn you respect and the opportunity to become a leader too.
When people believe in the mission, trust you and your plan, they will follow you through fire. Anyone can learn to be a good leader. Some are more natural leader, though. By working on yourself and your management skills first, you will learn to be a better leader naturally. You must have integrity and communicate well. You must project confidence in the path and mission. And you must support people to grow. If you do those things, people will naturally look to you as a leader and support you also.
"Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others." - Jack Welch
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Bob Norton is a long-time Serial Entrepreneur and CEO with four exits that returned over $1 billion to investors. He has trained, coached and advised over 1,000 CEOs since 2002. And is Founder of The CEO Boot Camp™ and Entrepreneurship University™. Mr. Norton works with companies to triple their chances of success in launching new companies and products. And helps established companies scale faster using the six AirTight Management™ systems. And helps companies successfully raise capital.
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