Have you ever had a boss you considered to be a great leader?  I have, twice.  Over the years I’ve spent time considering what made them great, as compared to others who ranged from ‘absolutely horrible, have no business having authority over other people” to solidly “good”.

Of course, there are several characteristics that differentiate great leaders from good leaders, but today I’m only focusing on three fundamentals:

  1. Setting and communicating completely clear expectations, that correlate directly to over-arching organizational goals and core values
  2. Empowering your staff members to be responsible for achieving those expectations
  3. Holding each accountable for their results.

Both of the great leaders I worked with set and communicated clear expectations for my behavior and performance, gave me responsibility for executing my expectations, and followed through by holding me accountable.  It sounds basic, I know, but failing to do these three things becomes the Achilles heal for many otherwise apparently high-potential leaders.

Have you ever experienced the frustration and productivity drag that results from ambiguity and lack of accountability? I experienced it in “Corporate America” and I see it in my client’s organizations all the time.  Under this type of leadership, self-motivated, high-achievers will press on through the uncertainty, but before long they start feeling like they are “doing it all” and get frustrated too.  General resentment builds towards the boss, because it feels like no one is driving the ship and no one cares. Eventually, either leadership changes or high potential staff members leave.  Both were true, at different times, for me.

Conversely, great leaders challenge staff members by communicating clear expectations for behavior and performance, empowering them with the responsibility to perform, and following through with the “silver bullet” of holding them accountable for results. (We’ll talk about the importance of recognizing achievement another day.)

Before you can do those things, however, you need to have a crystal clear understanding of big-picture strategies and goals, and how your team contributes to accomplishing them. Then, remember to incorporate communication strategies:

  • Communicate expectations, including how each contributes to big picture strategic goals, early and often;
  • Provide honest and direct feedback, at specified intervals and as otherwise needed;
  • Remain open to opportunities or needs to shift course, when changes in priorities or tactics are necessary.

Without hesitation or apology, a great leader makes each of the prior numerical and bullet points part of his or her leadership routine.  Mine did, and I bet yours have too.  I flourished and grew as a leader because they  had the courage and conviction to be clear.  You know what else?  Years later I count them both as two of the wisest and kindest people I know.

Now I have two words of caution for you:

  1. Do not confuse clear expectations and accountability with micro managing.  They are not synonymous.  Great leaders engage to the level necessary to encourage the success of individual performers – this is empowering.
  2. Following through, as described, requires courage and intention.  These are the actions that may not be fun or comfortable for you, but they are completely necessary.

As I stated earlier, there are several characteristics that make a great leader great. Rest assured, no matter how outstanding you are with the others, you will not be great – and may not even sustain “good” for very long – without having the courage to communicate clear expectations with measures of success, empowering your staff with the responsibility to achieve, and holding each accountable for their results.

Contact us today for more information on becoming a great leader.

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