For a person to become an effective leader, he should first understand the essence of what leadership is. As Kotelnikov (2007) quotes Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Thus, when a leader has to resort to bribery or force just to make his subordinates act accordingly, he isn’t showing effective leadership at all. Of course, such show of leadership is, as most leaders would know, easier said than done. Making people do something, especially if it is a hard chore, is a real challenge to a lot of leaders.
But honestly, a leader will hardly be effective if he does not know how to deal first with himself. It would be very hard for him to ask his subordinates to be more diligent in their work when he himself is laundering about the office. It is going to be hard for him to control a group of people when he cannot even control himself. Also, a leader has to know his own qualities, strengths and weaknesses, for such knowledge could help him function more effectively. After all, one of the functions of an effective leader is to be able to see the potentials of his subordinates and use it for the accomplishment of a goal or project. A leader who cannot determine his own potentials would not be able to do the same for his subordinates.
Important Qualities of an Effective Leader
A previous executive director of MAP for Nonprofits, Sandra Larson (1996-1997), gives at least eight qualities a leader should possess to become effective. The first quality is that he should be passionate. A leader has to have a passion for a cause larger than him. Also, it is his passion that would enable him to make courageous and difficult decisions and carry them through. The second is a leader should have a vision. Although, it may differ with passion, the two can hardly be separated. A person can be very eager to do something but would not have any direction to concentrate his energies on. Also, a person may have the dreams, the plan, but would not have the energy or the passion to see it through. Thus, the two qualities, hand in hand, are very important for a leader to have.
The third and fourth qualities a leader should have are creativity and intellectual drive and knowledge, necessary ingredients for the creation and advancement of good visions. Creativity is important because more often than not, a lot of situations call for leaders to think outside the box. Only then can they be able to arrive at some effective strategies that would be helpful in the advancement of their vision. Another aspect of creativity badly needed by leaders today is a sense of humor. Being uptight and overly serious can actually be counterproductive at times. Sometimes, a little laugh to relax some nerves is needed to break some heavy tensions. Knowledge and intellectual drive are qualities that should be present in all leaders. Frankly, it is hard for a leader to effectively lead a group if he is not qualified for the task in terms of knowledge about it. A probably extreme example, but nonetheless would show the concept, is an accountant assigned to lead a group of researchers to discover the effects of certain pesticides to pests. However good a leader that accountant may be, his different area of knowledge from the goal is bound to limit him as one because he does not have suitable knowledge about it. Then, a leader has to be an avid learner too because with continuous learning comes continuous self-improvement, which could also lead to improvement in his surroundings. Thus, a leader is encouraged to read and learn from other leaders.
Having values is the fifth quality and one of the most important ones a leader should have. He who does not know how to respect others cannot gain the respect of other people. Thus, a leader should know how to respect himself and treat his subordinates with respect because without it, it is not possible for him to lead them. In addition, a leader who can respect people is more easily able to deal with diversity among his subordinates, another skill very important for leaders to have today.
The sixth quality is a combined sense of humility and confidence. A leader may have the creativity to have a vision and equipped with strategies and the passion to see it through but if he lacks confidence in himself, action from his a long way off. Without action, nothing is going to change. In the same way, a leader should know how to be humble. He may be creative and may have thought of good ideas, but he must also realize and accept that brighter ideas will come from other people around him. He should focus on the outcome of the project and not be egocentric, believing that he should be the one who must create the strategy to push a goal through.
Being a good communicator and having interpersonal skills are the last two qualities a leader should have. Communication is a very important process between people. It is so important that misinterpreting a message or miscommunication can cause physical or non-physical harm to either or both parties. A leader who can frequently communicate well with his subordinates is able to develop a better relationship with them and minimize misunderstandings. Also, his being a good communicator will allow him to share his vision and his passion with his subordinates and convince them to follow him and join the team. In addition, he should also know how to listen, delegate, resolve conflicts, etc. so that the project can be kept together as a whole.
Unfortunately, not everyone has or can develop the eight qualities mentioned earlier. Not all leaders are creative enough to have great visions, nor are they capable of developing effective strategies to bring about the success of a project. Plato in his Book II of The Republic shares that it is for the best of the city if each man would practice one role or task than for him to be a jack-of-all-trades. This is logical because specialization can produce better results since it is the product of concentrated effort and focus. In the same way, it can be more practical for a leader if he would just concentrate on the things that he is most capable of doing and delegate other tasks to the more capable people.
In a company, for example, the president is a passionate guy who has a huge vision for its success and definite goals, but he’s not really a strategy guy. He’s also very busy and does not have enough time to communicate his vision properly to everyone in the company. But he knows that he is very good in managing and delegating tasks to the right people. So, he hires a social relations guy that could take care of communicating the vision of the company and maintaining the morale of the workers. He also finds a guy who has helped the company in the past with his bright ideas and shares his vision and goals. This president also hires accountants so they can do the book-keeping of the company.
Such arrangements in a company are typical but effective and efficient. Each person or group of people concentrates on their assigned tasks and is able to work effectively because they are not bothered nor pressured to do other tasks. Their outputs are excellent because their full concentration was on it.
A Leader’s Own Potentials
From the above example, an important aspect of the president’s character was also seen. Not only did he have humility and trust towards his subordinates, but he knew what he was capable of doing; and what he was not, he assigned to those who were. If the president did not face the reality that he was too busy to communicate his vision, he would not have hired that social relations guy and it would have affected the morale of the workers because it would have been impossible for him to do that job too. If he was also a guy who thought his ideas are always the best, he would not have gotten that strategist to be the one to develop the steps for him to reach his defined goals. He might have developed strategies with good results, but he probably missed even better results because of his disillusionment.
Every person has strengths and weaknesses of their own which they have to discover to maximize their abilities. A quote from Kathy Pauuw’s (2005) article defines strengths as “a combination of talents, skills and knowledge that are consistently and productively applied to achieve a desired result.” These strengths can further be developed, used and maximized and these are the ones leaders should emphasize more on in themselves and other people. According to a research made by authors of the book Now, Discover Your Strengths, less than half or only 41% of Americans believe that to achieve success, focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses is the key. On the other hand, in the Asian countries Japan and China, only 24% of those who participated on the survey said that they will give their focus on their strengths. The rest of the population of the three countries, meaning the majority of the population, believed that focusing on their weaknesses is the right way to success (Pauuw, 2005). But doing so is bound to leave individuals feeling incompetent and having lower productivity and morale as Danny Cox (2002) explains in his article ‘Talk to Strengths’. There, he wrote that it is more advisable for leaders or managers of companies to discuss the strengths of individuals with them because first, doing so is actually more comfortable to do, and second, it can be the leader’s or manager’s chance to boost the morale and encourage productivity. People are more encouraged when their strengths are addressed, thus causing them to perform more with positive energy.
The same principle applies when a leader focuses on his strengths more than his weaknesses. The former would leave him feeling good about himself, making him more confident, encouraged and thus increase his productivity, whereas focusing on the latter would leave one, discouraged and incompetent, thus having lower confidence in self and lower work productivity. And so, a leader must change his perspective and look at his positive attributes, his strengths. When he is able to do this, he can also do it for his subordinates and other people, making them feel encouraged and confident about themselves, and in the end, being productive members of the group. With that, the next question is how does one determine and develop their strengths?
Practical Ways for Developing an Individual’s Strengths
Most people in America have no idea about their strengths. When asked, they would often give blank stares or answer in no certain terms, says Peter Drucker as quoted by Kathy Paaw (2005) in her article. It is probably safe to say that this is not only a problem most Americans face, but also by lot of people the world over. Fine, looking at an individual’s strengths may encourage him, boost hi self-confidence and propel him to do things he never would have been able to do if he was focusing on the things he is unable to do. But in reality, it is hard to know what these strengths are. Sometimes, they are so evident in an individual that he himself never notices it but people around him do. Other times, the individual himself knows about it but is unsure. Then in some cases, their strengths are yet to be developed and mastered into skills. So how does one know?
The first step is to list the things one can do, identify his talents that are obvious. For example, is it easy for him to relate with people? In a room of strangers, is he the first one who’ll be striking a conversation with the person beside him? Does he have a good memory? These are the questions he should ask and answer. After all, singing and dancing aren’t the only talents a person may have. Also, are there certain activities wherein he has an easy time learning to do? If so, he may have a talent for such an activity. These must also be listed down. In addition, there are talents that the person himself does not know about but which are noticed by the people around him. In this case, asking these people can help determine more of his talents. That person may not know it, but he may have a way of explaining a very complicated matter in a simpler, more easily understood way. He cannot determine that himself but the people who listened to him can.
Developing skills is another way to build a person’s strengths. Skills are abilities, often learned and obtained through training, to perform actions which achieve a desired outcome (Wikipedia, 2007). In comparison with talent, it requires harder work and perseverance. But the more frequent they are done, the more one can master them and become one of their strengths. Examples of skills a leader should learn are communication skills, interpersonal skills and other required skills in his line of work or interest. A pathologist who were to lead a team of researchers should at least have developed the skill of handling laboratory instruments. A basketball team captain must have dribbling skills, or shooting skills, depending on his interest. People having no talent, although this is impossible, could still perform along with talented people as long as he is patient and perseverant in developing whatever skill that is. A person with talent who does not use or develop it will be left behind by a person who has got no talent but had the right character in developing skills.
Another effective way of determining an individual’s strengths is asking help from professionals. One of these is Gallup Consulting which developed the Clifton StrengthsFinder, the multi-million dollar project that took 25 years to develop. In simple terms, it identifies a human’s most prevalent talents which are foundations of a productive life. The Clifton StrengthsFinder is an assessment tool that measures the talents of a person in each of 34 themes their research showed were indicative of success. After that, it would reveal a person’s “Signature Themes”, or areas wherein their talents are the greatest, which are also five of the person’s themes that are most dominant. Thus, people who focus on these areas are the ones who are most successful because they know which strengths to build (The Gallup Organization, 2007). For more information on Gallup Consulting’s services, they are available on the Internet at www.gallupconsulting.com.
Looking at Weaknesses and Managing Them
Of course, it is folly to be focusing on the strengths of an individual alone. His weaknesses are also a part of his character and should be identified. This is so that he can see if he can do something to turn it into one of his strengths or if he has to ask someone to compensate for them.
A true life story example of a weakness turned into strength is one by David Boes. He is a trial attorney but his dyslexia didn’t stop him from being and one of the finest litigators in the United States. For an antitrust suit filed by the US Government against Microsoft, Boes was hired for his counsel. Why? Due to his dyslexia, Boes avoids using complicated and long words because although he knows what they mean, he doesn’t use them for fear of mispronouncing them. Thus, he uses simple words to give his arguments making them easy to understand and follow. Boes is also a man of common sense and may be called ‘a man of the people’. This characteristic of his helps him to naturally win the belief of the judge and jury. With the combination of his knowledge and skills, he was able to turn his dyslexia into one of his strengths (Paauw, 2005).
Thus, a leader should not be embarrassed or afraid to know about his weaknesses. These are actually opportunities for self-improvement, and with proper action, positive change. Remember, no human was born a leader, or a perfect one. Experience is still the best teacher for one to learn leadership skills (Cox, 2001).
Authors of Now, Discover Your Strengths define weakness as “anything that gets in the way of excellent performance.” They also suggest five ways to help people manage their weaknesses. First, they suggest that if it is possible, the individual should go and improve a weakness that he already knows about. Next, he can plan a support system that will help him divert his thoughts from his weakness and instead invest more time pondering on how to improve his strengths. For example, if he is a bit forgetful, he can try writing down the things he has to remember and put that note in an easily accessible place. Third, they suggest that the individual should use one of his strengths to overpower a weakness. Finding someone to help him or who could handle the areas he isn’t so good at is their next suggestion. This, of course, requires him to be humble and objective. And last, the individual should be able to acknowledge that a certain area isn’t really his strength and therefore, he should stop doing it. Again, he should ask help from someone else. Thus, another support system he can have is people whom he trusts can help him and believes in the same objective he is trying to achieve (Paauw, 2005).
Hiring the People to Help
After determining the areas an individual needs help in, the next step, as mentioned earlier, is for him to ask someone else’s help in that area. This is supported by Robert Crittendon as he suggests that one should look for people who complement a person’s strengths and can compensate for his weaknesses. He also would want someone who is good at performing a particular role instead of someone who is good at everything. That way, they can both get more things done with better results (American Management Association, 1997-2007).
Dharmesh Shah, co-founder and chief technology officer of HubSpot, seller of Internet marketing platforms, says that when one is looking for people, he should consider a person’s personality because these could be as important as their skills. Thus, when interviewing people for hiring, one can do so in a non-formal place, for example, at lunch or dinner. One can also do a trial run to see how his candidates will perform by getting them to work with him for a week to a month if that is still possible. Such circumstances are bound to reveal more about the candidates for who they really are than just interviews (Field, 2007).
Once the right people are found, the next question would be how to keep them. Shah suggests that for small businesses or companies, they can try offering stock options and bonuses. Anne Field (2007) adds that leader can also try offering extra flexibility by allowing working at home or, if possible, a lot of time off. Also, if he knows something about that person, he can try creative, specific incentives. Anne Field includes in her article the story of Andrew Field, CEO of a print shop at Livingston, Mont., PrintingForLess.com. He needed to hire a talented specialist and heard there was one in the area. He also found out that that person had to travel a long distance over a mountain just to get to work. Since Andrew knew his office was closer, he emphasized that point all throughout their meetings. That pre-press specialist was probably convinced and came to work for Andrew’s company, retiring only after 10 years of service.
In essence, it is very important for a person to have learned a lot about himself first before being able to be a leader responsible for a lot of other people. Knowledge of a person’s strengths and weaknesses and the character to improve and act on them are basis for the success of an aspiring leader. After all, as Danny Cox (2001) says, the effectiveness of a leader is directly proportional to his effectiveness as a person. Thus, it is logical to say that for someone to be effective with people he has to be effective as an individual first.
Indeed, an effective leader should have many skills. But he can still be effective if, after determining his strengths and weaknesses, he is able to apply this knowledge to the way he acts and delegates responsibilities to his subordinates. When he focuses more on strengths in himself and others, he can increase his own and others’ self-confidence as well. Such boost in morale is bound to produce higher productivity too. Of course, dealing with weaknesses is important too. An aspiring leader should acknowledge his weaknesses, improve on them, or ask the help of other people. A leader should always remember that the people around him are the key to helping him achieve the goals the whole group or organization has set. To end, the X-Factor is a catchy phrase that one can ponder on. It is not only for managers but for any leader of any group. The X-Factor: ‘Getting ordinary people X-cited about going the X-tra mile to help you, the manager, achieve X-traordinary results’ (Reck, 2002).
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Wikipedia (2007, June 14). Skill. Retrieved June 14, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skill