Many people want to be a leader, but are they really? Just because someone is a manager does not mean they are necessarily a (good) leader. Those who are the most serious about being the best leader they can be are very intentional about it and always looking for ways to improve their leadership. The differences between a great leader and a not-so-great leader are most readily seen by the effectiveness of the team/people they lead, with the former almost always excelling over the latter. In either case, how does one become a better leader? Most everyone knows the common, core qualities of a leader, but what about overlooked qualities? We’re glad you asked.
Empathy is a quality that does not come naturally to everyone but one that has been shown over and over is one of those “hard to put your thumb on” qualities of a great leader. Some people think of empathy as a weakness or a waste of time, but study after study show that trying to manage a team with more than enough empathy is always easier than trying to manage a team with less than enough empathy. Again, we’re talking about people here, and it is extremely difficult to gain trust, fuel relationships, or understand behavior without empathy. The key to developing empathy is listening more to those around you. That does not mean you must accept/agree with what they are saying, but just listen and pay attention to nonverbal communication. The better you can translate listening into interest, or at least seeming interested, in what someone is telling you, the more they will perceive you as empathetic.
Giving recognition is another overlooked quality of a great leader. “Give more recognition” is a phrase that may have left some management experts and analysts puzzled decades or centuries ago. The thought used to be that employees would receive critical, but respectful, feedback where necessary, but otherwise no feedback meant that the employee was doing well. “No news is good news” is a loosely-related phrase here, but is not the case anymore. Psychologists and other business gurus found that a little recognition went a long way in improving morale, reducing employee turnover, and increasing productivity.
A good sense of humor is a trait that may make management experts and analysts today puzzled, but it really does pay off. Laughter really is the best medicine and ranks right up there with empathy when it comes to increasing the bond between a leader and their team. It eases the intimidation some feel when it comes to the manager/managed relationship and can even help reduce the impact of bad news. The obvious word of caution is that using humor in the workplace is more difficult in the modern era than it used to be, so put extra intentionality into developing this quality to avoid getting in trouble with HR.