Many times I have been asked what I believe are the qualities which leaders should possess if they entertain the idea of leading others. Leadership is basically an art which takes ingenuity, courage and a sense of mission and vision.
True leaders have an innate ability to inspire and motivate others without using bullying and strong arm tactics. They have what I call 'touch' in their dealings with their colleagues. Not everybody is cut out to be a leader and even though they may follow certain set principles they learned in graduate school, to be a real leader you have to have a set of principles which you stick with no matter what the circumstances are. In simpler terms, it is called consistency! The following principles are what I believe leaders need to follow if they are to be successful in very challenging times.
- Leading is not the same as managing. There is a huge difference between managing and leading. For instance, leaders do the right thing and managers do things right. While managers focus on working toward the organization's goals, orchestrating resources in an effective and efficient manner, leaders need to engage in strategic thinking. They need to pay attention to details and focus on the big picture.
- Don't live in a bubble. Great leaders listen to their people-obtaining a variety of perspectives from a variety of resources. This helps them distill their own decision-making. They ask employees what they think and probe them on the pros and cons of a proposal. This not only shows employees that they are valued but also gets the leader closer to the best solution.
- Cherish and respect employees. Leaders function as enablers, helping employees perform their jobs to the nth degree. A leader can only get work done through other people. Employees who get respect will produce at their highest capacity and make the leader look good. Make sure people have the tools to do their jobs-and the freedom to make mistakes!
- Choose a clear mission. Leaders make sure the mission of their organization is plainly articulated and followed day in and day out. A mission statement can sound naive and look really good, but it has to be more than just a bunch of words. It should be the very heart and soul of what the organizatiuon is all about. It should inspire and direct.
- Demonstrate integrity. Successful leaders recognize that the way they behave reflects on the principles and ethics of the organization. Integrity and ethics are essential for any leader. A leader cannot be just one of "the boys". Leaders need to stand above the rest and show the way.
- Be transparent. Great leaders don't believe in secrecy and closed-door meetings. They must conduct themselves with transparency and openness so that rumors don't start and employees don't feel shut out. Leaders who are frank rather than evasive-even about difficult issues-will be able to win employees’ trust.
- Embrace responsibility. Outstanding leaders come in all shapes and sizes, from a variety of backgrounds, but what really sets them apart is their enjoyment in taking responsibility and their willingness to make tough decisions when necessary. Leaders don't waffle or equivocate. They make sure their decisions are fair-minded and balanced.
- Share credit. Leaders know the value of giving credit to others, even as they step forward immediately to take blame for losses, so that their people are protected and valued. "A leader is best when people barely know he exists," the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said. "When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say 'We did it ourselves' ".
- Leadership isn't for everyone. Not that many people want to take the hard hits that leaders have to absorb, regardless of whether they run a hospital, a clinic or a restaurant. A study of graduate students several years ago showed that well over 60 percent did not want the responsibility of being a leader. While there are many talented people, only a select few will embrace a leadership role.
- Have courage. Leadership requires courage. Leaders have to go beyond just taking care of their own careers. They need to engage in calculated risks that will secure the future of the whole organization. This is especially important in these trying times, when healthcare faces so many enormous challenges.
Now even though I have outlined a set of principles for quality leadership there are many other traits that make leaders stand out like punctuality, cleanliness, humility, smiling, good manners and being forever inquisitive. On a day-to-day basis these kinds of actions are required of all leaders who wish to leave a legacy with their organization and colleagues that will live forever. Leaders are like ship captains, if they stray from a set course they may take their ship to the bottom of the sea. That's reality!