Who doesn’t want to be a great leader? To inspire, to excite, to lead teams to great things. To be revered and remembered for their work and their impact on lives. It’s a wonderful and terrible thing – all at the same time – to be a great leader. Every significant achievement that the world has ever witnessed has been led by a great leader. So has every great atrocity.
But that doesn’t stop the aspirations. Or the delusions. Most of us secretly believe that we are very good at leading people. And that we deserve positions of leadership and responsibility early in our lives. The truth couldn’t be farther from our delusions. Most of us, unfortunately are terrible leaders. We make every leadership mistake in the book and then some. Yet we blunder on through lives convinced of our own greatness and continue inflicting life-altering damage wherever we go.
But all is not lost. If we can recognise the signs of the imminent demise of our aspirations, then it is possible to course-correct. Or if that’s too challenging, then at least we can claim self awareness and live in lesser delusions of grandeur. So here are 3 signs that you have the makings of a Great Leader. That you can be one among the legendary! So read on to recognise yourself.
1. You inspire & excite, not terrorise
Your interactions with your teams are often stressful but it’s a shared stress of achieving a common goal. It is replete with two-way communication, laughter and excitement-generating insights. People come away feeling enthused and respected. And respecting you.
In my youth, I often used to confuse respect with terror. The outwardly manifestations are quite similar so I console myself that it was easy to be mistaken. The downcast eyes, the deferential behavior, the careful hearing and concentration that happens when you speak. These could all potentially be mistaken for respect. Till you notice the carefully-blank expressions, the controlled responses and the relieved laughter whenever you leave the room. Sound familiar?
Leadership is about leading a group of people towards a goal or action. Even a sheepdog is a leader of sorts. But not one that the sheep really enthuse about. So it’s critical that we are able to distinguish between whether we are generating excitement or terror. And if you can’t tell the difference then like me, it’s time to start focusing on the non verbal cues that your team is sending you all the time.
2. You genuinely encourage the voicing of real opinions
There are some environments – created by thoughtful leaders – that are safe places. Where employees feel comfortable enough to say what is really on their minds. Even and especially if it’s not politically correct or runs counter to popular opinion. A place where they are ensured of a fair hearing and a environment that respects thinking that is critical yet humane.
Creating these environments is challenging for most leaders who are hard-wired to believe that they are always right. And even more so for time-strapped startup founders who don’t really want to listen but want action, action, action all the time. And creating this environment means spending the time necessary to establish that safe zone and letting team members find their groove. It means listening with equal intentness to the bad ideas because you never know when a good one may be hiding in there.
It’s not easy. But it is tremendously rewarding. In addition to creating a vibrant and empowered culture in your team’s, it eventually results in the emergence of more leaders within your organisation and that’s generally a good thing.
3. You trust your people enough to let go
I think I will build this ship all by myself, said no master boat builder ever. While it is tempting to supervise and oversee your team’s work to an excruciating degree, it is eventually a disservice that you are doing both to yourself and your organisation. It will create several far-reaching and adverse consequences that will take on a life or its own and eventually kill your business…
- It will disempower teams. Now, instead of finding their own solutions and way through the organisation, your teams will do the minimum work possible and then sit back and await for direction from you
- It will choke your bandwidth. You will spend so much time directing the day to day work of individual teams that you will have no time to do your own and the company’s direction, strategy and pace will suffer as a result.
- It will stifle capable employees and you will eventually lose them as they see zero growth and micromanagement. You will then be left with the woefully incapable lot, who will require even more direction. And choke even more of your bandwidth.
- It will raise your stress levels and give you a heart attack. Or at the very least, constipation. I’m not kidding.
In conclusion, growing as a Leader is a life-long process and just when you think you’re getting better at it, comes a lapse in judgement that makes you question yourself. But if you are able to consistently inspire your teams, encourage the voicing of real opinions and let stuff go, then you are well on your way to being that rarest breed of them all…a great leader! So, upwards and onwards, ho…!