What are the qualities of a true leader? I get this question very often. We all have our ideas of what a leader should be, but some of us, who have not only occupied positions of leadership but also have been led by different types of managers, have a pretty good idea of what good leadership should be like. Most of us would agree that a true leader is a leader who is willing to inspire and teach others and feels no intimidation or fear in doing so.
I remember that one of the topics I was interested in when I was thinking about my dissertation was school leaders’ leadership style. It had been my observation that the more inspiring, role-model-like a leader was, the more likely staff were to follow their lead and become leaders themselves. I had observed this in my own practice in schools, school districts, and education departments. The inspiring leader was a teacher, a guide, a role-model. The inspiring leader was worthy of a following.
In the past couple of years, I was able to pick up a few tips that I hope will become a mantra in the world of management. I was able to closely observe what an inspiring leader could build, and what an authoritarian leader could destroy. I came up with three very important observations that clearly separate the authoritarian leader from the inspiring one. Being and becoming an inspiring leader is an art that needs to be practiced!
Takeaway #1: Do Not Confuse Micro-managers with Real Leaders
Micro-managers are the opposite of a team leader. A real inspiring leader is inclusive, takes into account the opinions and thoughts of others, analyzes what they have to offer. A micro-manager dictates how an organization is to conduct itself. The micro-manager may present him/herself as an enlightened leader who comes in with the greatest intentions, but soon enough employees can perceive authoritarian traits. Hitler, Mussolini, may have been “effective” leaders. After all, everyone did what they asked, and they took great care in their operations, but they were very far from being true leaders. Those ranked under them did what they were asked mostly out of fear. Gandhi, for example, was a great leader, who not only created long-lasting change, but was also inclusive of all creeds and ideologies.
How can you distinguish a micro-manager from an inspiring, true leader? If your supervisor/leader, makes you feel afraid or incompetent, you probably have an authoritarian leader. If you can’t wait to tell your boss your latest idea for your business, then you probably have an inspiring leader. If you feel like you can get “in trouble” for using your own judgement to do what’s best for a client, you probably have an authoritarian leader. If you are confident every time someone leaves your business that you did the best possible for that person, then you probably have an inspiring leader.
Takeaway #2: The Word Teamwork Gets Misused
Team, teamwork, “there is no I in team,” are all very popular words and catch-phrases commonly used in today’s work environment. I have heard these terms, a version of them, or a combination of them, be used and misused in more ways that I can explain. I have seen authoritarian leaders use these terms and have absolutely no idea what these terms mean. I once had a supervisor who praised her team but did not want or allow any of her team members to make any decisions without her approval. I had a supervisor, in the same department, who once berated me for “thinking” a certain way about a decision that needed to be made. I have read emails from supervisors that did not have a clue they were being impolite, disrespectful, and rude to their employees. Yet, I knew they referred to these same employees as “family” when talking to other people. Some of these employees displayed symptoms of PTSD, and others experienced a version of Stockholm Syndrome. This is no way to treat those who we consider family. This is no way to treat anyone.
In addition, when employees are not at their best, they do not perform best. Employees who feel valued, feel strong, and can carry the weight of the organization. As humans, we have an innate need to belong, to be part of something, rather than just an underling. As a leader, I had the pleasure of working with team members that gave their all for the organization. They were considered team members, not merely “staff,” and I made sure that they were thanked, trained, welcomed, and felt like I had their back. They never hesitated to stay late, come in on weekends, work their lunch, etc. because their input was invaluable. They felt how important they were to the organization.
Takeaway #3: True Inspiring Leaders Train People to Replace Them
One of the most important aspects of being a true team leader is to make sure that the team can move the organization forward in case of the leader’s absence. There should be no difference between the leader and the team members in regard to taking over and moving projects along.
A few years ago I ended up moving on from an organization earlier than I had anticipated. My assistant was able to carry on all aspects of the operation and was able to take over all responsibilities of the job. She was trusted by everyone as I had given her enough space to carry on the daily tasks, get to know the important stakeholders, have interactions with all the relevant stakeholders, make decisions, and take over responsibilities of my position. She learned quickly and efficiently. When I moved to a different position, she not only took over all responsibilities but also was quickly noticed by other employers who snatched her right away to a much better position within the organization. This was a win-win situation.
Last weekend, I was proven correct one more time. As some of you may know, I run a non-profit organization, The Bocha Project, and part of our responsibility is to fund-raise for other organizations around the world so that they can become independent and can build on their mission rather than have to worry about the deficits of their daily operations. Last Sunday, we had a fundraising event to help two wonderful organizations (Sabores Especiales Madero and Casa de Papel). Early that morning, due to a medical emergency, I realized that I would not be able to attend this event at all. It was a huge disappointment for me, but I was certain that the event would go on without a hitch. After all I have associated with partners who could carry on without me (shout out to Iliana and Ivana, and to Café Argentino Restaurant!).
Hope this helps you grow as an employee, entrepreneur, and leader.
Wishing you peace and freedom!