effective leaders

Traits of a Leader

LeadershipOne of our projects is running an Emerging Leaders program for up-and- coming Emergency Managers from across the country.  Sponsored by Target Corporation and ESRI, this program brings in leaders from each of these companies as well as Directors of Emergency Management from some of the largest cities and jurisdictions in the country to discuss leadership issues. Recently, I had the pleasure of facilitating a panel of such leaders. A question posed by a student was “what are the leadership traits that have made you successful?” Traits noted were:

  •  “Say-do” ratio. If you say you are going to do it, then do it.
  •  Persistence. Don’t give up even in the face of pushback.
  •  Selflessness. It’s not about you. Focusing on your success does not provide success.  Focus on those around you.
  •  Transparent. Don’t hide your thoughts or the situation.
  •  Self awareness. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know how you show up to others and how you show up in stressful situations.  Do you tend to make quick decisions or make no decisions at all? Do you tend to react with noticeable anger or appear too calm as though there are no issues at all?
  •  Ask for help. This is a collaborative society. Don’t try to do it all and don’t try to do it all alone.
  •  Be calm in a crisis. Leaders can cause chaos if they are not calm. Don’t let the disaster manage you.

What was most amazing to me was the concurrence from senior public and private sector executives that this list is accurate. There was no differentiation based on if you’re part of a for profit business or if you’re a government employee.

Do you have these traits? What are others you would add to this list?

Speaking the Language of Effective Leaders

“My people don’t get it.” “My staff just aren’t motivated.”

“I’m sick of my employees bringing me problems instead of solutions.”

How many of us have heard people we work for or with say these kinds of things? Probably all of us have heard at least one of the statements at one point or another (and some of us have likely even said them ourselves). With this kind of language being common in the workplace, it’s worth asking how it impacts the organization. I’d be willing to bet that people who work for leaders who use these types of phrases don’t have the best morale.

Building a high-performing and engaged organization is elusive in today’s workforce, particularly in the Federal government, which has experienced a steady decrease in morale for the past several years (5 Tips to Boost Your FEVS Ranking).[1] Language alone does not necessarily make or break an organization’s morale, but it is the first step in creating a high-performing culture.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 3.13.07 PM

Take a look at the table above we developed to help leaders shape their language. What do you notice about the differences between the left and right columns? The first thing I see is that the dead-end interpretation is shorter. As a leader, it can be easier to assign blame and take yourself out of the equation, but blaming others won’t help you, or your team, achieve your goals. Beyond being longer, the interpretations with power (right column) give you just that – the power or ability to make progress. A leader who uses these interpretations has options and is willing take the steps to improve understanding, becoming an effective leader. In both interpretations, the language ultimately indicates the momentum (or lack there of) that a particular leader will demonstrate through their actions.

So what?

The point is the language we use is more than words. We create our world through language and often times determine what results we’ll get. Particularly for leaders, language is so important to building relationships and fostering a high-performing environment. Everyone gets frustrated; gaps in communication and misunderstandings are inevitable. But the next time you find yourself using a dead-end interpretation, pause to consider: How does this help me? Where can I go from this? Does this serve my goal or detract from it?



[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-leadership/wp/2014/12/09/federal-workers-morale-is-at-lowest-point-in-years/