Somebody smart once told me; “In order to be a good leader, you need to experience a bad one.” There is probably a lot of truth in this piece of wisdom, however bad cases do not teach you how to behave when you start to lead by yourself. Yes, you get to see what not to do and how not to act, but I believe this serves only as vague guidance.
I would say that in order to be a great leader in the future, you need to experience – or at least understand – what good looks like. The leadership topic has been widely researched already and many of us have our own preferred definition. More often than not that definition is shaped by only a few examples which are hard to assess.
So if you are struggling or doubting to understand whether your current leader is preparing you well for your own leadership journey in the future, I invite you to read further. Let’s discuss what makes a great leader and what to look for when choosing your own leader or what so seek for when you become one.
Great Leader has a vision and inspires
Have you ever met a person when you felt like following that person immediately? Think about that person more. How did he or she make you feel?
From my own experience, usually that person holds a cool vision. It can be vague and high level, but you already feel like you want to be part of that journey. You want to help that great leader figure it out how to get there. Because it sounds so cool to be in that same party celebrating the success. And that person sounds so convincing that you are sure that with your help, you will be a part of that successful trip.
Often those great leaders are ambitious, so it is expected that the journey could be a bit bumpy. Nevertheless, you feel committed and safe. Great leaders are like qualified doctors who can diagnose when some motivation and inspiration shots are needed for you. Typically they also identify the right time and place when to inject those shots.
Great Leader is people obsessed
Sometimes we have this view that we exist in companies to make our bosses happy, to do stuff for them which they asked us to do. I believe it is actually the other way around. They exist to help and support you when needed, because the actual work is usually done by you and not your boss.
So great leaders are there for you. They believe in you and know your strengths and weaknesses. They have this magical ability to give you assignments in which you can excel and they love watching you succeed, looking on from the side bench. You achieve those great results by yourself, but you always know that if needed, they are close by to support you. It feels like they can feel what you experience and go through in certain moments. I guess this could be called empathy.
Sometimes the most successful leaders appear “hard on the outside”, because they are extremely smart, knowledgeable and wise. However, they are usually “soft inside”, especially when it comes to dealing with people. They have strong empathy, because they feel responsible for what happens to their most important asset – PEOPLE.
Great Leader is bold
If you need to choose a colour to describe a great leader, I would struggle to answer this question. Although I would definitely say they are NOT grey. Great leaders stand out in their own unique way, which could probably be called charisma.
They are “politically savvy”, but they don’t work as politicians inside the company. We all know that this shouldn’t be a full time role, especially at senior level. While there is always so much going on in leadership meetings, you know that your great leader will always stand for what’s the right thing to do.
You know that your leader is not afraid to sacrifice short-term results to achieve better results in the long run. They also won’t be easily threatened by the internal politics and internal popularity game. They have your trust and you feel proud to be on their team.
Great leader is a great coach
You are not perfect, neither your boss is – and most importantly – we all know it. They are humble creatures and don’t boast about their achievements each and every time. Everybody knows it anyway, so why bother expressing it?
Everyone wants to work for a great leader mainly due to one reason – the ability to learn and grow. Because they are great coaches, you feel in good hands to trust your learning curve will be steep. Great leaders are focused listeners who always try to understand what you need to do to step up to the next level.
It is sometimes hard to realize, but especially if you move somewhere else or have more time to reflect, you realize how much you have learnt from them. And it’s all thanks to their dedication to help you grow.
Great leader is a team builder
It’s proven that the best results are achieved by teams, not individuals. Naturally successful leaders are always focused on building strong teams, which are usually diverse in thought, gender, culture and similar.
What is also important to know is that great leaders make everyone in those teams feel appreciated, respected and happy in their work. Conflicts happen and no one is even avoiding them. Why? Strong teams know that disagreements foster thoughtful discussions, which will likely lead to greater results.
Great leaders are good facilitators that feel team dynamics in different situations and step in when needed.
It’s ideal to have a leader who has it all, but as we know; Mr. or Mrs. Perfect exists only in fairy tales. So act like a future leader yourself and recognize your leader’s strengths. Try to learn from him or her as much as possible. Only if your leader doesn’t have any of the mentioned characteristics, then it’s probably enough and you should consider to move on.
I dedicate this blog post to my former great leaders who taught me so much and shaped me who I am today. Special thanks to Amdi, Chris, Maaike, Hans, Eduardo, Maurice and Jelena.