One of my close friends and a very experienced senior manager (let’s call him Jake) has led teams for a long time. I picked Jake’s brains on what makes a good leader and sought out some of his advice. Interestingly enough, two things stood out in this interview. One is that even after all this time Jake is still working on his communication (meaning leadership is always a work in progress); the other is that leadership qualities can be taught. Here are the excerpts:
Kay: What, in your experience, are the three most important qualities of a leader?
Jake: Respectful, flexibility and feel for reading people.
Kay: What are some important factors that prevent someone from taking the initiative?
Jake: Fear of failure, inadequacy of skill sets, lacking in non-subject skill sets and perhaps lack of confidence are some factors that prevent people from taking on the mantle of leading teams.
Kay: Is leadership overrated?
Jake: Not at all. People work harder for a leader. When someone works for a manager, it is all about accomplishing the task. For a good leader, the team members get a lot of satisfaction and fulfill more than just the task.
Kay: What would be your advice to a budding leader? Which areas to concentrate?
Jake: Keep relationships separate. Be friendly, but not friends with people that report to you. Lead by example. Your principle should be “do as I do”. Be aware of your actions and share your knowledge. Not everybody is the same in the team and please consider evolution à team members may not be the same as when you first “read” them
Kay: Is there any technique or something that you’ve deliberately practiced to hone your leadership skill?
Jake: Most leadership abilities come naturally, but people can be guided to become good leaders. I observed former bosses and higher level executives and peers and learned from them. You have to be cruel but fair and don’t hesitate to ask for advice
Kay: How would you categorize your leadership style?
Jake: My style for the most part is collaborative and democratic. However, on occasion I have had to use the authoritarian style as well – you have to.
Kay: Who is your idol? Who did you look up to? Why? Any examples that really had you eating out of his/her hand?
Jake: My idol is a former CEO of Rohrer Pharmaceuticals, named Rob Cawthorne. Rob was a visionary and had excellent clarity of thought. He was also a very good speaker who was able to bring out those thoughts in some very powerful speeches. His communication was top-notch and he had an aura about him that exuded confidence. I learned a lot from Rob.
Kay: What are the things that you try as a leader to avoid?
Jake: Try not to get emotional, not get confused or flustered, stay calm under pressure and always avoid favoritism.
Kay: Would you consider anything that is still in progress with your development – if you had the time and resources to develop just one more skill to add to your repertoire, what would it be?
Jake: Working on my communication skills – that can always be improved.
Kay: What is the biggest challenge you ever had to face as a leader and how did you overcome it?
Jake: It is always difficult to cut someone out of the team, letting someone go at work. I keep telling myself that it is not about the person but that I have to perform a task for my team
Kay: What would you advise budding leaders to guard against?
Jake: Never disrespect people. Guard against complacency. Not just sit back but stay on top of things. And never ever lose the trust of the team
Kay: Thanks Jake!