Leading-CareerTo achieve your personal finance goals (e.g. affording a comfortable retirement), increasing your savings is normally a key objective. The first step to save more is usually to reduce your expenses. But at some point, cost cutting runs out of steam, and instead you have to focus on earning more, which for most of us means progressing in our career i.e. getting promoted. The challenge is how to get promoted?

There are various ways, of course: education and training, specializing in a field, being a long serving trusted employee, etc. In my opinion, however, the foundation of broader career progression is being a good leader. At this point, I expect readers would begin to roll their eyes and lose interest because they are bored and frustrated with soul-sapping management-speak.

Good Boss vs Bad Boss

But just pause for a moment and think about your current or past bosses – instinctively you’ll categorize them as good or bad, or acknowledge that you liked or disliked certain aspects of their personality, style, etc. What you are doing is unconsciously defining what makes someone a good leader to you.

In a personal finance context, why should you aspire to be a good leader? What is the financial benefit? Leaders, or persons who have shown they are capable of leading, are provided opportunities to help organizations advance, and consequently, are rewarded for their efforts by higher compensation (and recognition).

Leaders at All Levels

In many companies, the designation of who is (or who could be) a leader is often restricted to an organization’s upper echelon – the top brass are the ones who “lead” the organization. I disagree with this categorization.

Instead, I believe leaders exist at all levels, but they may have no title to signal them as such. Ultimately leaders must have followers – otherwise who are you leading?

The real test, therefore, is not your level in organizational hierarchy, but whether your current objective requires you to interact with or depend on others to achieve a successful outcome. Once you are implementing something different from the status quo, and are required to guide or involve others, you are a leader. The size of the task is irrelevant.

Power vs Persuasion

The reality is, many initiatives organizations undertake are implemented by brute force i.e. by senior management having the “power” to direct (force) others to perform the tasks needed. While this approach is sometimes necessary, it is not leading. The challenge for leaders at lower levels is they usually have no organizational authority to compel others to act. Therefore, if you can’t tell someone what to do, how do you persuade them to follow you willingly?

In the case of senior management, if the authority of organizational hierarchy is stripped away, how do you effect change? An excellent example is volunteer organizations – how do their leaders achieve anything? They can’t hire or fire (staff are volunteers), they can’t adjust compensation (there is none), and they can’t even force someone to do something. In other circumstances, an appointed leader may exist, but when activities are being carried out, the staff look to someone else for direction and guidance – the informal leader. How did this person gain this “authority”?

What matters, regardless of your level in an organization, is demonstrating that you can think and act like a leader. When you are provided the opportunity to lead others, your leadership approach encourages others to follow and want to succeed. If you are not the leader but a follower (which is often the case), your leadership mindset assists the team to achieve a successful outcome.

The reality is, when you personally demonstrate leadership behaviours, it does not take long for the company to come knocking on your door to lead a team or an initiative, with an appropriate promotion or bump in compensation.

I fundamentally believe success or failure in most undertakings can be traced back to the quality of leadership provided.

Good leaders have a track record of success; bad leaders may initially succeed, but ultimately they make good staff leave or become demotivated, and eventually bad leaders fail because they have no true followers.

Leadership behaviours and attributes

This leads to the natural question, what then are the defining attributes or behaviours of leaders? Remember, it does not matter if you are actually in a position to lead; what matters is demonstrating leadership qualities. Your involvement will be valued and sought after, even if you are a follower. And by showing you have the right traits, it is an easy leap for a decision maker to give you an opportunity to lead.

Before exploring the common characteristics leaders possess, the critical point is they cannot be faked – it is not a false front someone adopts. It must be genuine because, quite frankly, everyone can sense the presence of a phony. It’s almost humorous to see someone pay lip service to the qualities of a leader; you can spot the falsehood a mile away. Why bother with the charade? Which then begs the question why were they appointed to lead in the first place…but that’s a subject for another day!

Let’s consider some of the common behaviours and attributes that leaders demonstrate:

They can be trusted

In a single word, leaders have integrity. I believe the single test for integrity is: words and actions must line up. Leaders earn the respect of those they ask to follow, and know it is only achieved over time, through collaboration and building trust.

They are passionate, energetic, and have a can-do attitude

This does not mean only extroverts can be leaders, or you walk around with an overbearing unfounded optimism. Leaders are realistic about challenges, constraints, and opportunities alike.

But they simply do not focus on “can’t do” or on all the reasons something is difficult; instead, they are interested in “how to”, and they are driven to find the answer. As a result, they are like electricity, charging everyone up to achieve a goal.

They accept personal responsibility and accountability for results

They are performance driven and own what is being asked of them. They don’t offer excuses, blame others, or vanish when problems arise – the buck stops with them. When they give their word, or know that others are relying on them, they are relentless in their approach and personal commitment.

They are grounded, self aware, and have a healthy dose of humility

All too often the picture of a leader that we conjure in our heads is a bully, a jerk, or an arrogant fool who believes in their own greatness. True leaders have both feet on the ground and are realists. They know their strengths and weaknesses intimately (usually by soliciting feedback from others), and understand their success is built from the contribution of others.

They insist on open, honest, respectful, two-way communication that leads to action

There are several points being espoused here. Leaders are transparent and they communicate in a transparent way – they say what they genuinely mean. They are inclusive, respect others as individuals, value their contributions and opinions, and try to understand different points of view. But they believe talk must eventually lead to decisive action.

They possess an inner strength and project self-confidence

They are not arrogant know-it-alls. They have conviction in their beliefs and do not waffle or change their mind based on the last person they spoke to. This conviction usually arises because they have considered a matter deeply and solicited multiple views. It does not mean they are incapable of changing their mind. It means in the face of opposition, they defend their position with sensible arguments until someone comes along with a better idea or argument.

They are organized and goal/solution oriented

I am yet to meet an effective leader who is disorganized. Organized leaders create order and lay out a path for others to follow. They identify clear steps that break down the overall approach. As a result, most organized persons are goal/solution oriented because their approach is focused on achieving an end result.

Importantly, they tend to be less volatile and prone to stress-induced behaviours (e.g. impetuousness, anger, doubt, etc.). They remain calm in a crisis and focused on the prize/solution. Disorganized persons are frustrating to work with because there is no order to their efforts, their priorities flip flop (like a roller coaster lurching everyone in different directions), and ultimately they create or compound chaos.

They are interested in others

Without this trait, real leadership is impossible because by definition, leading means asking others to follow and accepting that the leader’s personal development and success is no longer the priority. Leaders, therefore, are empathetic and able to connect with others emotionally.

Wrap up

Having identified the common characteristics that leaders display, the logical next question could be, what actions or activities do leaders apply every day? We’ll explore this in the article A Leader’s Playbook. Hope you check it out!

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Please feel free to share your thoughts or experiences in the comments area below! If you have questions, don’t hesitate to Contact Us: we’d love the opportunity to assist you.

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Hi. I hope you enjoy reading the posts! I have 20 years regional and international experience in financial services, and I am passionate about helping others achieve Financial Freedom by making wise financial decisions. Keep coming back!

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