Adhesives Magazine

Leadership Defined

June 1, 2006
Everyone knows that quality leadership is an important part of every successful business. But what exactly makes one leader better than another?

Everyone knows that to teach dogs certain behaviors, treats and praise work better than whips.


Everyone knows that quality leadership is an important part of every successful business. A good leader can drive an organization to ultimate success, while a bad leader can potentially run a business into the ground. But what exactly makes one leader better than another? That question is extremely difficult to answer, as a good leader seems to possess a varied combination of traits, rather than a carbon copy of one specific personality type.

Still, today's volatile business environment demands a definition of the ideal leader. Without at least some idea of good leadership traits, a business won't survive against the competition. Recently, business expert Bill Blades answered the following difficult questions about what makes good leadership.

What do you feel is the most important value in any organization?

Without a doubt, it is communication style. And communication is present in organizations with good and bad leadership. Either a leader paints a clear picture of the company's vision for all the employees to embrace, or he or she adopts a "my way or the highway" communication style.

A study conducted in 2001 looked at over 20,000 exit interviews and found that the number one reason people left a job was poor supervisory behavior, or, in other words, bad bosses. And, one of the biggest factors cited in these interviews was poor communication skills.

With every interaction, employees become either more engaged or less engaged with their work and the organization. If the interactions are more negative than positive, you will produce disengaged individuals who become increasingly disconnected from their work. They then settle in to a routine of apathy, and usually end up costing the employer large sums of money.

Every leader must realize that each employee is part of the company's financial assets. For those assets to perform at maximum levels, the executives must focus on creating and nurturing a great environment within the organization. And a huge part of the well-being of that environment relies on communication.

What communication traits are found in bad leaders?

Everyone has heard the statement, "I'm the boss." You can often find bad leaders shouting this statement at people, which is not only unprofessional, but also obvious that the leader lacks respect and vision of organizational goals. And people naturally translate this into, "I don't value you."

Everyone knows that to teach dogs certain behaviors, treats and praise work better than whips. I'm not sure why more leaders don't approach people in the same manner. When you verbally abuse someone, they usually withdraw. Being loud, getting red in the face and pounding the desk has gone out of style (if it ever was in style).

Poor leaders are also quick to assign blame and point fingers. They don't understand that they should share the glory and accept the blame. All leaders need to understand that mistakes are part of life. Everyone makes them. But when a leader criticizes someone, the whole organization loses part of its potential. In actuality, bad leaders create zombies by destroying the potential of their employees.

The Glengarry Glen Ross style of management, which fosters competition rather than teamwork, is dead. The Equation Research Survey revealed that 96% of 377 executives interviewed believe that yelling can never be an effective management tool. The message is that many leaders need makeovers. Not in the form of adding new methods, but identifying what methods need to be modified or taken away.

What communication traits do you find in the good leaders?

Strong leaders, no matter the economic environment, display respect, trust, integrity and reliability. But perhaps honesty is the most important quality a leader must possess. By being honest with themselves and their employees, good leaders foster an inspirational work environment that supports good behavior and innovation.

Another effective approach that good leaders often take is servancy leadership. This means they lead by asking what their followers need in order to be successful. Essentially, this approach treats every employee almost like a client. Good leaders must figure out what each of their employees needs, what makes them tick and what they ultimately want to achieve. This approach leaves employees feeling empowered, respected and important. And it makes them want to work harder toward the goals of the organization.

Good leaders also have vision. They maintain a steady focus on a long-term approach to a successful business that can weather the evolutionary nature of the economy. By combining that focus with great communication skills, the major battles are won.

How important is the culture of an organization to its overall success, and how do leaders influence this culture?

Outside of having a great product, culture is everything. It determines the ultimate success or failure of every business. In simple terms, culture means everyone going in the same direction, with shared beliefs, behaviors and assumptions, for every single co-worker and client.

Everything, including culture, starts at the top. The top executives and managers are responsible for what happens in an organization, and they are the ones to blame when things go wrong. Therefore, leadership determines the culture and culture determines performance. So, improving the behavior of the leadership should be the initial course of action for a struggling business.

A large part of the culture is dictated by communication. Not just in what the organization itself communicates, but how it communicates it. A leader can chew on people all he or she wants, but all that accomplishes is a short-term drop in morale and a long-term drop in revenues. A constructive culture, on the other hand, will drive people to better performance. Unfortunately, many leaders take a passive approach to the culture of their organizations. And many times the business leaders don't know any better. In these cases, an outside perspective may be extremely beneficial.

How does a leader's positive attitude affect their organization?

The positive leader takes time to express a genuine interest in people, and he does so because he feels it is the right thing to do. The positive leader listens to people and understands their concerns. He knows that he isn't always right and makes an effort to find solutions, even when he is actually part of the problem.

Positive leaders aren't concerned with what they can get out of people. Rather, they focus on how to invest in their people and how to help them succeed. They dwell on the positives - not just to be nice, but because it leads to enhanced performance. They consider keeping a positive attitude as setting employees up for greater success.

Leaders can check themselves for a positive mindset by tracking the number of times in a workday they pay a compliment to one of their employees. A good leader should strive for at least five compliments per day.

A positive attitude can make a great difference in a person's ability, and not just as far as leadership is concerned. For example, when one negative job candidate with more skills and ability goes up against a positive job candidate with a shorter resume, most leaders would choose the positive person without a second thought. That person's positive attitude will carry over into eagerness, creativity, and better communication skills and results.

What types of training are most important for good leadership development?

ASTD conducted a study and found that over 80% of managers in the United States became managers without any formal management training. Either the leader inherited the position through the family, was promoted because someone died or retired, or maybe the person was the most qualified candidate at the time the position opened, but he or she wasn't really ready for the responsibility. But these situations often can't be avoided, so sometimes people are thrown into leadership positions without the right training or coaching to properly prepare them for the job. Many times, leaders must come to this realization on their own and seek out training and mentors to help them succeed.

Most importantly, every new leader needs a mentor. Either before they move into the leadership position or just after they've taken on the new responsibility, someone needs to tell them the truth about what they need to do to be successful. The best mentors usually come from outside the organization, but they are always straightforward and honest.

Should good leaders focus more on long-term or short-term goals?

Good leaders should focus short-term on interim goals. These are the small steps necessary for reaching the big goal. And accomplishing the small, short-term goals gives everyone in the organization a confidence boost. Ultimately, though, the long-term goals should be more important to a good leader, who focuses on the disciplines of their business with patience and perseverance. These leaders account for the details and the follow-through required for reaching the smaller goals, while always keeping one eye on the long-term.

Good leaders also know that no firm can be instantly successful, and that one or two quarters do not make the success or failure of an organization. Effective leaders know that long-term efforts yield higher returns than cutbacks.

One of these long-term efforts should always be education. Leaders must understand that a huge competitive differential is a well-educated workforce, which takes time and persistence to develop. They also realize that the only thing worse than educating an employee that eventually leaves the organization is not educating someone and having them stay.

Babson College conducted a 12-year study that found that the only thing successful entrepreneurs had in common was a willingness to launch, or to stay out, in faith. One of history's greatest leaders, Frederick the Great, said it best: "Audacity, audacity, always audacity." Whether in robust or recession times, organizations always need visionary leaders who are committed to creating an exciting future for themselves and for others.

So why are leaders open to certain degrees of risk?

They need to teach their people to take risks without the fear of punishment for mistakes. A good leader encourages their people to innovate solutions, and does not berate them for mistakes. Just because of their authoritative position over their employees, many people are naturally intimidated by leaders. And the leader may not mean to strike fear into their people, but they do. So, leaders must acknowledge this power they possess and strive to reposition themselves as approachable and understanding.

What's the main difference between a manager and a leader?

Leaders focus on people. Most managers control and focus on the bottom line, while genuine leaders focus on people and the future. Although the bottom line is important, the people in an organization have a direct effect on success. Therefore, keeping the people happy will increase the bottom line.

Also, managers thrive on catching people making mistakes, where leaders think, "What can I do to make this better?" For example, when a manager catches one of their employees doing something wrong, they might call them into their office and reprimand them. But a leader embraces the philosophy that failures are necessary for finding success. They allow their employees to try new methods, and may actually hold people accountable for doing so. Then if something doesn't go as planned, everyone can examine their actions and learn from the mistakes as a team.

Finally, what actions do leaders take to foster teamwork?

By embracing the philosophy that mistakes are a learning experience, leaders foster teamwork among employees. This philosophy also supports peer mentoring relationships that allow employees to work together toward better solutions. Plus, when everyone knows mistakes are acceptable, they connect with each other through sharing experiences and having fun. No one can accomplish maximum results unless the process is fun. When people have fun, they throw more of themselves into their work - just because it's fun. Enthusiasm moves mountains.

Good leaders also invest considerable amounts of time in coalition building. This process requires listening, support and encouragement so people aspire to greater things. Also, if any of their people try to hurt another person or team, leaders act fast to stop those negative behaviors. The leader wants a unified team - and voice.

Leadership for the Success

The ideal leader does not exist, but all good leaders possess certain universal traits. Listening to concerns with an understanding ear, a positive attitude, 100% honesty and an approachable personality are the foundations of the quality leadership any organization needs to reach a higher level of success. And with an understanding of these characteristics, leaders can improve their methods and lead their organizations to rise above the competition. By applying these good leadership traits, any leader can be ideal.

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