I’ve worked with really good leaders, and I’ve worked with really bad leaders. Good leaders and bad leaders can get people to follow them because of the proximity to power.
What’s the point.
The better question is what traits must great leaders possess?
And there are many traits you need if you want to be a great leader. But, I’m going to focus on the two most important traits you’ll need. Without these two traits, all the other traits that are important for a great leader to possess will not matter.
Trait #1 of Great Leaders: Integrity.
Try building anything great that requires a team of people without integrity. Literally, you can’t do it without integrity.
The answer is obvious. To build something great, you need a great team of people to follow you. Your great team will leave so quickly your head will spin if the team starts doubting your integrity.
Let me give you an example from my deep, dark past..
My company was going through an extremely rough period. We were getting funding on a weekly (yes weekly) basis from our investors.
The drill went like this. I would send my “ask” of how much money we needed on a Thursday. One of the investors (the bad investor) would either agree or disagree with how much money I asked for, or not fund us at all.
Well, one week the bad investor decided not to fund us. We would not have enough money to meet payroll.
Not meeting payroll was bad enough, but we also lost our healthcare. And taking people’s healthcare away scares people to death.
I told our executive staff as soon as I found out. Rightly or wrongly, two members of the executive staff blamed me.
We were able to fix the problem and get funding, but the damage was done. In their eyes, I no longer had integrity.
Your team will no longer follow you once your team thinks you don’t have integrity. The moral of the story is guard your integrity at all costs.
This leads me to…
Trait #2 of Great Leaders: Empathy.
Just like with integrity, try and lead a great team of people without empathy. It literally can’t be done.
Here’s the misunderstood thing about empathy: Being empathetic doesn’t mean you agree with what someone is saying or feeling. Being empathetic does mean you indicate to someone you understand what someone is saying or feeling.
And you don’t have to be warm and fuzzy to have empathy. I’ve worked with some rather rough and tough leaders that have shown tremendous empathy.
For example, the late Jack Gifford, the CEO of Maxim Integrated Products showed his empathy in many meaningful ways. Gifford was the antithesis of warm and fuzzy, yet he had empathy.
He made his personal physician available to employees who had heath issues. I took advantage of this when my mom had breast cancer.
But the one story that really stands out to me is during the Christmas holiday season the company would have a “giving tree” in the main lobby. There would cards with the names of foster children with the toys they wanted.
I wondered what happened if no one picked a child. I found out one day when I just happened to hear Gifford’s admin ask him what should be done. Gifford’s answer was, “Let’s buy the gifts. No child should go without.”
Finally, you can’t fake integrity and you can’t fake empathy.
You actually have to walk the walk and talk the talk. Your team, this great team you’ve built, will know if you’re faking it.
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