4 Traits for Successful Organizational Leaders
Leaders hold an outsized influence on any organization’s future. Their immense impact on the success or failure of organizational strategy means they must be aware of their own habits, assumptions, perceptions and shortcomings. As a leader takes on greater influence, especially at the executive level, it’s essential that he or she continues to evolve, not only as a subject matter expert, but also as a motivator and influencer others will follow.
The “soft skills” of leadership can be difficult to obtain, especially in the context of an expanded role offering many personal and performance challenges. Still, those who commit to focusing their attention on providing more effective leadership to those around them will find that they are more attuned to opportunities — both to expand their own skills and to facilitate the professional growth of those on whom they depend to execute their plans.
Let’s consider four key traits that organizational leaders should strive to cultivate:
1) Strengthening Relationships
Leaders who have spent much of their careers in one organization may find themselves in the position of leading their former peers. This highlights a crucial responsibility of the leader: To be attentive to, and properly cultivate, relationships at all levels of the organization. This includes building rapport and effective communication with new peers at the leadership level as well as being forthright about expectations of one’s reports. No matter what the leader’s personal style, ambiguity has potential to unintentionally sabotage the performance of other team members, so clarity is the key.
2) Expecting and Acting on Accountability
Establishing expectations is critical, but it is only the first step. Without accountability, even the clearest requirements have no meaning in practice. When senior leaders ensure those around them are accountable for results, their reports will do the same, and so on across the organization. Done well, this has the effect of improving the organizational culture in ways that cannot be expected from ad-hoc approaches. Leaders must know when to personally follow up with specific individuals for accountability, budgeting their valuable time and investing it where it will make the biggest difference.
3) Providing Mentorship through Accountability
The direct interactions of a senior leader are limited, and his or her time is precious. Still, accountability isn’t only a stick, it is also a carrot that provides an opportunity to develop human capital. When leaders speak, others listen, so the decision to praise a certain project can reverberate through another’s career. Likewise, when it is time to confront failure within the team, leaders should be sure they are doing so in a constructive way that raises the chances of future success.
4) Bringing Principle and Passion to Your Work
A company’s mission statement may seek to encapsulate organizational values, but senior leaders must bring them to life. Leaders should consciously examine their own actions and ensure they are performing to the highest standards. Key values such as honesty and integrity will be recognized and emulated. Authenticity from a leadership figure can have a tremendous impact on morale, helping others unlock capabilities they may not have realized they had.
Defining What Matters in Organizational Leadership
The larger and more complex an organization, the more challenging it can be to keep a finger on its pulse and consistently deliver excellent results. However, the line that connects each of the four skills above is the willingness of a leader to take ownership of his or her impact throughout an organization. Leaders who do this are presented with many opportunities to craft their image, refine their values and help others succeed on a variety of levels.
Remember, the quest for self-improvement does not end at any level of leadership. A leader’s identity maintains healthy tensions between the personal and the professional, the external image others see, and the values that motivate thought and action. The more committed one remains to “sharpening the saw” at every stage of one’s career, the easier it will be to recognize when it’s time to step up and take decisive action in a leadership role.
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