Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What Makes a Great Leader?

I've interviewed many leaders over the years, and the one thing that comes up consistently is that great managers don't have to use a bunch of fancy voodoo to motivate or inspire workers. They don't have to offer cool perks like parachuting off the office building during lunch hours to get the most from employees. 
It just comes down to being a genuine person who really listens to workers and shows some humility. But based on the number of Wall Street types who have been doing the perp walk over the last several years, this may be a lesson worth revisiting as I did in this column for Gannett/USAToday....

If you could eavesdrop on a conversation among chief executives discussing their business concerns, what do you think you would hear?
Gary Burnison knows.
Not only is he a chief executive, but his company,Korn/Ferry International, is the world's largest executive recruiting firm.

"The most common theme I hear from CEOs is that it's less about the product made or the technology used, and that it's much more about the people," he says. "CEOs are asking more out of people with less people to do the work. So, what I found that it's much less about the strategy and setting forth a purpose and much more about empowering, motivating and inspiring people."
CEOs are focused on inspiring workers to be more innovative to be able to compete globally, Burnison says. They understand that no employee will stay for 20 years in one job and is more likely to stay just a few years.
Yet CEOs say if they can motivate workers to stay another two or three years with an employer, that can be critical to business success.
Part of getting top talent to stick around depends on leadership. Because many companies lost potential leaders during the economic downturn, the demand is on for managers who can inspire and motivate workers, Burnison says.
If you're interested in being one of those future leaders, what are some of the management skills you need?
"The No. 1 predictor of success is learning agility. In other words, knowing what to do when you don't know what to do," he says, adding that those seeking leadership positions also should show humility and authenticity.
Some young workers haven't learned the importance of face-to-face communications, a hallmark of successful managers, Burnison says. He believes they and people in other generations spend too much time staring at their palms as they use smartphones or other gadgets.
"Ultimately, leadership is about making others believe," he says. "They (workers) have to be able to look into your eyes and see your soul."
Burnison, author of The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership, (McGraw Hill, $28), has some advice for those who want to become leaders:
• Make it count. "I was counseled a long time ago that as a leader, you need to make the other person feel better than before with every interaction," he says.
"That's actually taxing and very difficult," Burnison says. "But when you're a leader, you can't have a bad day. What you project, others feel."
• Manage the first 3 minutes. More than 50 percent of communication is visual, which is why it's key that you take note of your tone of voice, facial expression and body language when meeting someone.
Leaders always must be aware of what they're projecting to others, such as confidence or optimism.
• Be fully present. "Don't be looking at your BlackBerry.
"Don't read something. You have to be in the moment," he says. "Fully engage the other person."
• Have an "outside-in" perspective. "Find out what others are thinking," Burnison says.
"You have to be able to listen, learn and lead," he says. "Ask questions."
Finally, as a leader looking to hire new talent, Burnison says he always will "choose hunger over pedigree any day."
"Why? Because while pedigree is important, performance is the great equalizer," he says. "I know that person who is hungry will work harder, will try harder and will wake up without the alarm clock. They're going to want it, taste it, live it and breathe it."

Any leadership lessons you would like to offer?


1 comment:

Alisa Conley said...

My takeaway: "The No. 1 predictor of success is learning agility. In other words, knowing what to do when you don't know what to do," he says, adding that those seeking leadership positions also should show humility and authenticity."

What a great article. It's true, having said the quote above, successful leaders are the ones that are most loved and respected by their followers bec they established a degree of authenticity that can inspire and make others believe in achieving the dream that was implanted on them.

Alisa Conley for Career Confidential