What does a leader look like? What are the common characteristics that make people willing to follow someone else? Last time I introduced Tom, a division manager who was one of those rare individuals I have encountered that I would call a leader. Far too often, “leaders” are mere managers trying to navigate the day to day duties instead of plowing the path to new horizons for those that follow. There are lessons from Tom’s leadership that can be drawn from.
An important part of being able to plow the path for others is knowing your stuff. You cannot effectively lead somewhere you haven’t gone yourself. Tom exemplified this characteristic perfectly. As a division manager, he conducted regular progress and performance reviews for projects. He could always sniff out B.S. and each month would attack different angles of a project to keep the team members off balance. He was able to accomplish this because he had served time as an engineer, as a project manager, as one keeping tabs on the intricacies of a project. He knew what he was talking about and those of us following him were confident in his decisions. Rarely did I see someone contest a decision Tom made; not because he was a tyrant but because he was reasonable and experienced.
There is a big caution flag to wave here though. If you don’t know something, never fake it. We need more leaders that are authentic in our world today. In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey comments that “trust is equal parts character and competence…you can look at any leadership failure, and it’s always a failure of one or the other.” Faking that you know your stuff is a failure of both character and competence. As a leader, these two traits are the building blocks of your entire legacy because they breed trust, and trust is vital to others following you willing.
So if you find yourself in a leadership position, invest time and energy into constantly pushing yourself to hone your skills and to learn more. By doing this, you can increase the effectiveness of how you lead and others will place more and more trust in your leadership.