In leadership workshops, we create a list of important leadership qualities. For frontline employees, there are two crucial qualities for great leaders. Consistently being fair is the first quality. Favoritism is one of the things that destroys the morale of a team. Even the appearance of favoritism can mess with the dynamics of a group. Being fair beyond anyone’s doubt can be a challenge, especially if some of our employees are friends.
As leaders, we might need to create a little bit of distance from friends with whom we work. If we supervise friends, we must tell them that we cannot talk about situations at work or any of the other people on our team. Our friends cannot enjoy access to us and our opinions about work that the rest of the team does not get. We must treat everyone in the same way.
It’s also important for us to let the people we supervise know that we have established boundaries with our friends. Our employees will think the worst if we don’t bring it up, so we need to go ahead and discuss the agreement that we have made with our friends. It’s crucial that everyone on the team feels confident that when we are chatting with our friends, we aren’t talking about the other people on the team or what’s going on at work.
The second quality that is important to frontline employees is the ability to listen. One of the things that employees complain about most often is when leaders don’t stop what they are doing and listen. Basically, we want to listen for understanding. Our personal needs are to be listened to, understood, and respected. A lot of times people don’t care if we agree with them in the end; they do care that we took the time to listen and understand their point of view.
It is important to take the time to fully understand other people’s perspectives. However, listening for understanding does not mean that we have to agree with a person’s perspective or take his or her suggestions. We want to maintain a mindset that says, “There is a possibility that I might agree with you or that I might incorporate your perspective.” However, there is no obligation to agree at the end of the conversation. We can say upfront, “You know, I haven’t made up my mind, and I may or may not do this the way you’d like for me to, but I do want to understand your point of view.”
The next important leadership quality is kindness. Leaders often push back at the idea that kindness matters. They say, “I don’t have to be kind. I’m not their best friend!” We don’t have to be someone’s friend to be kind to them. Being kind also doesn’t make us a pushover. We still need to set clear expectations and be sure that everyone is living up to those expectations. However, we want to maintain a positive relationship, so we act with kindness. We don’t yell or belittle. We help them succeed in a positive way.
The next quality is integrity. Integrity is a bit of a catch-all because integrity is walking the talk, being a role model, and acting consistently with honesty, kindness, and fairness. Integrity is also about being trustworthy and reliable.
The little extra dash of spice in integrity is your own personality. As leaders, we get to be us. Everyone’s style is a little different. It’s not that one is better than the other. It’s that we are each acting according to our own strengths and our own personalities.
The last quality is consistency. It is important that we have a positive and caring attitude, listen, act fairly, be kind, and act with integrity all the time. Great leaders are consistent, dependable, and reliable.
Honestly, none of us are going to be reliable and consistent all the time, but we need to manage to do it most of the time. Our employees need to know that we aren’t going to yell at them when they come to us with a problem. They need to feel confident that we are going to be calm and reliable. We’re going to ask questions and figure out how to fix the situation. We want our employees to feel that we are a stable, reliable force who is going to help them. Until employees feel confident that their leaders are reliable and consistent, they are going to be tentative and watchful—maybe even subversive or dishonest in order to avoid an unpleasant confrontation.
Of course, the list could continue. In workshops, we sometimes come up with 20 qualities of exceptional leaders, but the ones we’ve just discussed are a good place to start.
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