According to a University of Nebraska study on leadership, the “single biggest predictor of job satisfaction is authentic leadership.”
Leadership is the daily choice of attitude and action that inspires others to accomplish a goal. What attitude you choose each day determines the quality of leader you are and subsequently the effectiveness of your team.
I have studied and practiced leadership for 25 years in corporate, military, volunteer, and government settings.
I have learned there are certain attitudes a leader can adopt that can make or break their success.
Here they are.
#1. Think Decisively
Decisiveness is a key leadership trait. A leader can have all the good ideas in the world but if they don’t have the confidence and courage to make decisions, especially tough ones, they simply can’t be effective.
Many great leaders have suggested decisiveness is near the top of the list of leadership traits in terms of importance. Former Chrysler chief Lee Iacocca said that:
“Decisiveness is the one word that makes a good manager,”
General George S. Patton said on decisiveness:
“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” and “No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair.”
“Chronic indecision is not only inefficient and counterproductive, but it is deeply corrosive to morale.”
The leader who can gather information then make a prompt, wise decision and stick to it, is effective.
If you must change your mind because the facts changed, that’s OK, but you need to be able to state how the facts changed and why that justifies a change of course.
So how can you become more decisive?
A study in Forbes Magazine by Joseph Folkman and Jack Zenger showed 4 ways a leader can be more decisive:
#1. A leader should develop “deep knowledge and expertise.” Whether a leader has it themselves or is humble enough to listen to others who have it, developing or gathering knowledge is a critical factor in decisiveness.
#2. A leader needs a “clear strategy and direction.” A leader has to understand how their decision falls into the overall mission of their organization. One can make a good decision on paper but if it’s not aligned with the mission, it can become a bad decision.
#3. A leader needs to “develop courage.” This includes making a tough decision, but also correcting an incorrect decision. i.e. a leader admitting they made a mistake.
#4. A leader needs to “deliver results.” Making a decision is one thing. Implementing it is another. A decision should be implemented with courage and a sense of urgency.
Being decisive takes courage. A leader displays moral and physical courage.
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” — President Theodore Roosevelt
#2. Choose Hope and Optimism
A “can-do” attitude in a leader is so contagious. This doesn’t mean they are naive about challenges that lie ahead, but a challenge is better met with optimism than pessimism or despair.
Hope is the light on an otherwise impossibly dark path. Only with the hope that something can be done is there a possibility of it happening.
A team that has a leader who inspires hope and possibility instead of despair about obstacles will no doubt be a much more productive team.
Smart optimists are more willing to take risks because they know that failure is just a temporary obstacle once will is applied to overcoming it.
An leader with optimism opens more doors, accomplishes more goals, and gets the most out of their team. The best leaders operate with optimism and hope always at the ready.
Helen Keller said about optimism:
“No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.”
So how can a leader choose optimism?
Leading Insight suggests a few ways:
“Unfortunately most of what is being reported today has a pessimistic tone, so to build a more balanced view, you need to look for the positive signs. In an economic downturn, pessimists may be more right but optimists will see more opportunity and actually accomplish more.”
Optimism is simply a choice of attitude. Are you going to focus on the good and the productive or the negative and non-productive?
The challenge or obstacle stays the same size. Only with a greater will can a team overcome it. And will is grown with optimism and powered with hope. A leader who doesn’t understand that has less of a chance to overcome that obstacle.
Be “can-do” and your team “will-do.”
“A leader is a dealer in hope.” — Napoleon Bonaparte
#3. Choose Authenticity Over Perfection
One of the greatest leaders I ever met personally was General James Mattis. I served with him overseas. Most recently he was the Secretary of Defense. He advocated for leaders to know the leadership traits and principles but to apply them in ways that were their own. In other words, leaders should be honorable while being their authentic selves. The best leaders are who they are because not being you is a form of inauthenticity that people can inherently smell from a mile away.
A study by Patrick A. Duignan and Narottam Bhindi in the Journal of Educational Administration cites a:
Lack of honesty and integrity in leadership, and (authentic leadership) acts as a counterbalance to the artifice and deception prevalent in leadership in many contemporary organizations.
Being yourself as a leader is key. There are universal leadership traits one should adopt, but everything should be adopted in light of who you are as a person. This means you aren’t perfect, that that’s OK — you’re honest.
And honesty trumps perfection.
“True leadership stems from individuality that is honest and sometimes imperfectly expressed…Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.”
People respond to authenticity more than perfection.
So how Can a Leader Be More Authentic?
CEO of LEADx and author of Great Leaders Have No Rules Kevin Kruse suggests authentic leadership is:
“someone who is willing and able to be themselves, and leads in a way that feels natural to who they are as a person.”
Just be yourself. It’s a form of honesty that people can inherently feel. And honesty in a leader is of primary importance to their effectiveness.
“Leadership = Competence + Authentic Character” — General James Mattis
Leadership is a state of mind. Authentic leadership can determine your success or failure as a leader. Always choose authenticity. I learned from the example of people like General Mattis many ways to be an effective leader and anyone can apply these principles by making the right choice of attitude.
If you make the choice today to:
#1. Be decisive.
#2. Project can-do optimism.
#3. Be yourself.
Then you will be a more effective leader.
And your team will be thankful to have you. Those obstacles that lie ahead tremble at the thought of a decisive, hopeful, and authentic leader barreling towards it with a motivated team following.