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The Essential Leadership Traits Every Manager Should Cultivate
Managers are the leaders of their teams. Effective management requires leadership skills. Find out why you may fall short as a manager and what you can do to improve the outcomes of your managerial efforts. In this article, I explore the leadership traits that can help managers engage, inspire, and guide their teams to success.
“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success. Leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” – Stephen Covey.
Leadership and management are distinct concepts. Yet managers who possess the right constellation and level of leadership traits can elevate managerial outcomes.
Managers focus on achieving organizational goals by organizing work, managing resources, and planning to achieve objectives. A manager’s job is to ensure smooth day-to-day operations.
Leadership is about inspiring people, presenting them with a vision worthy of their buy-in, setting the tone for the organizational culture, and fostering innovation.
Leadership skills can help managers perform on a higher level and consistently achieve superior results. The leadership traits that work on the macro level of the organization also work on the micro levels of the team and individuals. And managers must take it upon themselves to develop, foster, and use these skills to excel in their positions.
A manager is a leader as well.
Communication is an important managerial leadership skill. Other leadership skills managers must master to excel consistently are:
- Purpose and vision
- Empathy and emotional intelligence
- Adaptability and flexibility
- Accountability and Responsibility
- Problem-solving and decision-making
- Empowerment and delegation
- Resilience and perseverance
Let’s take an in-depth look at these leadership skills that allow managers to perform consistently well, navigate challenges successfully and inspire their teams.
Vision and Purpose
Vision and purpose provide a framework for all leadership-related activities. They allow managers to make solid decisions aligned with the organizational interests and vision. Having a well-defined and communicated vision and purpose also helps managers:
Clarify the reasons for the existence of the organization and adopt strategic plans to take it where it should be.
- Make decisions that forward the long-term goals of the organization
- Provide purpose and motivation for their employees
- Develop strategies based on the core values of their organizations
- Communicate clearly and effectively to foster trust and credibility
- Make well-aligned and inspired decisions during times of strife and instability.
A clear vision allows managers to communicate it to employees often and precisely, creating a sense of shared purpose and fostering enthusiasm.
For a real-life example of a purpose- and vision-guided leader and manager, one has to look no further than the ever-present and globally-known Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
Musk wants to establish a human settlement on Mars and has made it his mission to pursue technologies that will create a sustainable future.
Advanced communication skills are as necessary for organizational leaders as for lower-level managers. Leading people and guiding them requires constant, clear communication. Communication is one of the fundamental leadership traits for a reason.
When managers practice it, communication is a tool that weaves a consistent narrative about the identity of the organization, its values, and its goals. As such, it establishes a shared understanding of objectives, values, and direction.
Some of the basic communication skills are active listening, clear articulation, and the ability to convey simple or complex ideas.
Communication is an essential leadership skill.
Active listening allows managers and leaders to establish two-way communication channels with the concerned parties. Real communication is always two-way. The parties exchange ideas and feedback, looking for a common denominator that aligns with the organizational values and goals.
Presenting ideas succinctly and clearly is a cornerstone of healthy communication. To ensure people understand them, leaders should avoid corporate jargon and get to the point early to retain their interlocutors’ attention.
To improve their communication skills, managers can also:
- Focus on active listening
- Acknowledge emotions and demonstrate empathy
- Develop conflict-resolution skills
- Encourage two-way communication by asking open-ended questions and requesting feedback
- Be mindful of the cultural differences and sensitivities in their teams
- Establish rapport with their team members
- Promote a team culture built upon honesty and transparency
- Maintain eye contact with interlocutors
- Achieve proficiency in the use of communication technology like email, video conferencing, and messaging
Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage emotions and recognize how other people react to one’s emotions, actions, and communication. As such, it is a cornerstone of intelligent leadership.
When leaders or managers understand the emotional backgrounds of their employees’ actions, thoughts, and attitudes, they can craft thoughtful responses to their concerns, taking these variables into account. By showing genuine care and empathy, leaders and managers sow the seeds of trust.
People sense authenticity and react to it with trust. And trust is the hard currency of leadership.
Former US President Barack Obama was the embodiment of emotional intelligence in a world leader. His EQ served as the source of his outstanding communication skills and ability to connect with people from different walks of life and cultural backgrounds. His ability to demonstrate empathy was only matched by the eloquence of his speeches.
Adaptability and Flexibility
Effective leadership is flexible and adaptive. Intelligent leaders and managers welcome change, recognizing in it the opportunity to forward the interests of their organizations and employees.
Adaptability allows leaders and managers to:
- Handle crises
- Build resilience
- Make better decisions
- Keep up with the fast-changing business environment
- Innovate and foster creativity
- Better execute strategies
- Maintain positive relationships with stakeholders
Flexibility allows leaders to course-correct and adapt their strategies based on market shifts, the feedback they receive, and unexpected challenges.
Leaders can develop these essential leadership traits by:
- Learning from experience
- Developing their leadership maturity
- Finding ways to spot the silver lining in setbacks
- Seeking feedback
- Adopting a growth-focused mindset
- Building networks
- Staying informed
- Practicing mindfulness
- Focusing on continuous learning
Accountability and Responsibility
Effective leadership takes responsibility and chooses accountability. Effective leaders know their decisions have an impact on their teams and organizations.
By assuming responsibility for their decisions and meeting the expectations of their reports and superiors, managers can contribute to a culture of transparency, trust, and accountability.
A manager who embraces accountability and assumes responsibility leads by example. Such attitudes and actions inspire trust in followers, inspiring them to follow suit.
Healthy communication is the basis of accountability. The first practical step managers can take to create a team culture of accountability and responsibility is to set up open bi-directional communication channels. Open, transparent communication also facilitates the clear definition of roles and expectations.
Team members who know and understand their responsibilities can perform stress-free. Constructive feedback and the recognition of their achievements can inspire them and encourage them to stay the course and assume the initiative in some situations.
Decision-making and Problem-solving
Sound decision-making and problem-solving skills allow managers to help the long-term success of their teams by mitigating risks and making sense of complex situations. These leadership skills also help managers foster innovation, boost organizational resilience, and improve operating efficiency.
Good managers are problem-solvers.
The role of a manager is to guide a team toward a well-defined goal by allocating resources optimally and making timely decisions to meet challenges. To meet these expectations, managers must be capable of analyzing problems, identifying optimal solutions, and implementing these solutions strategically.
The former CEO of PepsiCo., Indra Nooyi anticipated the fundamental shift in consumer preferences towards healthier products and more sustainable production practices. She identified the challenge, found a solution, and successfully steered her organization toward sustainable growth and success. She aligned her decisions with long-term industry trends, successfully implementing changes that allowed PepsiCo. to remain one of the world’s top beverage and food companies.
Empowerment and Delegation
Effective managers know that by empowering their team members and delegating important tasks, they can:
- Improve collaboration among team members and with other teams
- Create a culture of trust and accountability
- Enhance the effectiveness of their teams and organizations
When managers empower their team members, they enable them to take psychological ownership of the organizational values and goals. Teams thusly empowered will be:
- More motivated and engaged
- More likely to use the diverse skills and talents of their members
- More interested in professional development and advancement
- More likely to assume leadership roles in the future
- More responsive and agile
Managers who delegate well have more time to focus on high-impact activities that require their specific talents.
Leaders who delegate well know how to define their expectations and match the tasks they delegate to the skills of their team members.
They also set up a solid bi-directional feedback mechanism, provide support, and encourage open communication.
To empower their employees, managers must set boundaries, encourage idea-sharing, create development opportunities, and recognize employee initiatives.
Resilience and Perseverance
Perseverance and resilience are two leadership traits clearly associated with leadership maturity. Resilient leaders learn from failure and adapt quickly to change.
They know that no defeat is final and no victory is definitive. They use their resilience to better navigate challenges, handle uncertainty, and model desirable leadership behaviors.
Perseverance and leadership resilience contribute to sound decision-making under pressure.
Apple’s founding father, Steve Jobs, found himself ousted from his own organization in 1985. In response, he founded NeXT Computer and acquired The Graphics Group. The latter went on to become Pixar Studios. In 1997, Apple acquired NeXT Computer, and Jobs was back in the fold, ready to power the innovation that would crown Apple’s resurgence.
Maturity is an essential leadership trait.
Resilient leaders are mature leaders and masters of maintaining a positive mindset. As a leadership coaching expert, I aim to develop my clients’ leadership maturity. To this end, I encourage them to develop their emotional intelligence and self-awareness, focus on their purpose, and practice self-care. Setting realistic goals and cultivating a growth-focused mindset are other ways to facilitate leadership resilience.
Management and leadership are two sides of the same coin. While they entail different objectives and methods, they require similar skills. Leadership for managers is as necessary as the ability to sprint for football players. It enables them to do their jobs better and achieve favorable outcomes for their teams and organizations.
Like leaders, managers should focus on self-improvement and the intentional development of the leadership traits detailed in this article.
If you’re a manager, reflecting on your leadership journey and committing to enhancing your leadership skills can turn you into a better version of yourself.