Irene Asare on leadership from a practical lens: Key elements of great leadership

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“Leadership without effective communication, accountability, integrity, self-confidence and empathy is poor leadership.” – Irene Asare

What makes someone a great leader as opposed to a good one? During the last quarter of 2019, I spent time ruminating and sharing content across my platforms on leadership; and I ask, is being a good leader enough? I don’t believe so. Why be good when you can be great!

Let’s talk about great leadership and what it consists of.

In my previous article ‘Are Leaders Born or Made?’ I said: Abilities and expertise alone are not what make great leaders. Leadership is exhibited through our behaviour and actions. Leaders who focus on improving their good behavioural traits become result-oriented, and combined with their talents and skills are bound to be successful in developing other leaders and leading organisations”.

When we think of great leaders, we automatically think of some of the greats like Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Martin Luther King Jnr, Nelson Mandela, Yaa Asantewaa, Barack Obama among others. Business leaders who come to mind are Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Aliko Dangote and others. What these leaders all have in common besides leaving their legacies, is their ability to continue inspiring others whether dead or alive and the fact that they stand for something greater than themselves. They embody all the qualities of great leadership.

I referred to historical figures because their names are synonymous with great leadership and they are names many of us are familiar with. But, if we look around our workplaces or even observe the people in our personal lives, those we keep around us, we will notice some of the key elements of their leadership. They are the everyday leaders of our time, and they too are great leaders even though you may not find their names in history books or Google.

Wherever you find yourself on this leadership journey, whether running your own business or leading a team in an office setting, there are certain qualities or elements that are required to positively interact and lead employees, teams, clients and customers.

I have chosen to highlight these five (5) key elements of great leadership:

  1. Effective Communication
  2. Integrity in Action
  3. Knowing when to be Accountable
  4. Empathy and Understanding
  5. Self-confidence

Effective Communication

As a leader, good communication skills are imperative and an essential characteristic to possess. It is virtually impossible to lead anyone with lacklustre communication skills. Your ability to communicate effectively has a profound effect on the other four (4) elements, and can motivate and inspire those you lead – your team or employees – to work hard, achieve targets and organisational objectives. Your ability to speak and listen matters greatly, especially in the world of work where you deal with people from all walks of life.

The way you communicate with your team determines whether they are drawn toward or away from you. They will draw to you and freely discuss their lives, their desires and experiences only if you do the same and show interest in making them feel heard. They become inspired and develop a level of trust for you and your leadership style. Alternatively, when you show no interest and pretend not to care about personal stories that others tell you, they automatically shut down, become disengaged, and feel self-conscious about their own interests.

Communication enables those around you to open up and share freely. When communicating effectively, remember to speak with conviction, maintain good eye-contact, use an assertive voice, be passionate and show interest in the subject matter. We all know someone who has the ability to communicate flawlessly with great energy, engagement and warmth. Always take time to reflect on the kind of communicator you are.

Integrity in Action

“Leaders must exemplify integrity and earn the trust of their teams through their everyday actions. When you do this, you set high standards for everyone at your company. And when you do so with positive energy and enthusiasm for shared goals and purpose, you can deeply connect with your team and customers.” – Marillyn Adams Hewson, Chairman, President and CEO of Lockheed Martin

Integrity is one of the fundamental values that employers seek in employees. It is the hallmark of a person who demonstrates sound moral and ethical principles at work.

For any great leader, honesty and good morals is also very key. A dishonest and corrupt person makes a bad leader. If you lack integrity, you cannot expect those you lead to be honest with you and in their actions. Integrity is sticking to your words, leading by example, living by your core values and following through.

Leaders with integrity:

  1. Admit when they go wrong and apologise for mistakes.
  2. Have honest and often difficult conversations.
  3. Give the benefit of the doubt to unclear circumstances.
  4. Acknowledge and appreciate people’s time and efforts.
  5. Say what they mean and mean what they say.

Know when to be Accountable

Accountability is also learning to take responsibility for blame when it is necessary and giving credit where it is due. When you are open and honest with others, you will open the path for truthful behaviour. The team will respect you and your decisions, and in turn make better choices. Only a leader with influence can persuade others to act and be accountable for their actions.

Empathy and Understanding

Trying to understand people’s origin and background facilitates an environment of humanity, where leaders thrive and team-members are more productive . For example, if an employee has been missing deadlines lately and misses a key deadline that exposes you to your senior leaders, you may be tempted to rant and discipline them.

However, as a great leader you are expected to be curious about the reason(s) for missing deadlines and not assign blame to the employee immediately. After all, what is more important to human communication than understanding others? Being able to express yourself openly and build empathy with other people is the foundation of effective leadership.

Self-confidence

Confidence as a leader is key. Who trusts a leader that hesitates or is unsure of themselves? Confidence allows us to communicate effectively, have integrity in our actions, know when to be accountable and be empathetic and understanding. Leadership means taking charge even when you are afraid and full of doubt.

Self-confidence diminishes all of the negative factors that hinder our leadership abilities. The more we believe in ourselves as leaders, the more we are able to manage any stressful situation. Not to mention that the more others will believe in us. If you lack confidence in a leadership role, people will notice that quickly.

This is quite a long list of elements, and is by no means exhaustive. Occupying a leadership role or being an important figure that everyone looks up to in an organisation is not for the faint-hearted. There is certainly nothing easy about the task of becoming a great leader, but it is rewarding. All of these elements work together to present a person with the qualities of a good leader, but be a great one. I reiterate “why be good when you can be great!?”

>>>The author is a dynamic, highly effective global business executive with a strong desire for business transformation, organisational change and effectiveness. She has over 20 years’ experience in transforming performance, leadership and culture, costs and operational excellence. She is founder of the CarvinClay People Development Limited, a leadership development company that moulds professionals for the future of work. She has also founded a HR Mentorship programme, wherein HR professionals get rigorous mentorship to enhance their understanding of the field. Her industry knowledge spans across Oil & Gas, Telecoms, Banking, Services, Transport and Retail, in both matured and emerging markets. You can find Irene Asare on: LinkedIn @IreneAsare; Instagram @IAmIreneAsare; Twitter @IreneAsare.

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