Learn what a good leader is so you can follow good leaders or become one yourself.
(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)
What makes a good leader? You need to know — not only so you can become a good leader yourself — but so you can work for good leaders. When you are just starting out in your high-tech career, finding someone who can give you the benefit of their experience should be one major factor in your job decisions. Working for a bad leader might be instructive, as well, but the experience is sure to be much more painful.
I believe the most important skill of any leader is the ability to communicate. All other traits flow from this. Regardless of whether a leader is communicating the overall vision of the company, the agenda for a regular weekly meeting or the menu at the company cafeteria, it should be clear, and more importantly, concise. No one likes to be confused and a leader that communicates badly creates confusion. Even more, confusion directly effects productivity in drastic ways. How can a leader expect you to carry forth on their vision if they have given you no clear idea what the vision is?
So, when you are interviewing for your next job, pay close attention not only to what the person says, but how they say it. Is their description of the company, job and departmental goals clear? Are there measurable criteria of what denotes good job performance? Is their presentation about job requirements and other issues laid out in an organized fashion? If not, this might be the first sign of a bad leader.
A good leader should also be capable of communicating the concerns and accomplishments of their staff up the chain of command. If they can’t communicate with you there is no reason to believe they will miraculously be able to communicate with their executives. If they can’t communicate well, it puts everyone on their staff at a disadvantage.
Every one in their place
Next, a good leader should have a knack for putting the right person in the right job. Too many times I see people hired for one position only to be shunted off to do work for which they have neither aptitude or desire. Sure, perhaps the work gets done, but job quality and the person both suffer. A good leader needs to “lead” their staff into higher levels of productivity, not attempt to “push” the proverbial square peg into a round hole. Hiring is an art form and one that good leaders need to master.
Sure, we all sometimes experience moments of tedium and difficulties in our jobs, but that should not be standard operating procedure. If your management can’t find a place for you, or help you to find the right place, it is probably time to take more drastic action.
Finally, a good leader, and more importantly, a great leader, needs to take responsibility for their decisions and actions. Any leader who allows the consequences of their failures to “roll down” the organization chart will soon find themselves out of a job. Leaders should celebrate their successes and admit their mistakes with the same aplomb. Mistakes are part of work and life. A good leader should be concerned with learning from such mistakes, rather than blaming other managers, or even worse, their own staff. If a staffer has failed, it is due, in a large part, to a failure of their management. Leader and staff are in the fight together and the burden is carried by all. A leader should accept praise for the good work of their staff, but they also need to accept the responsibility when something goes wrong.
Accepting responsibility shows staffers that the leader is willing to commit to the goals of the company and to them. This goes a long way towards developing a staff that is willing to work harder and better for the leader. Both leader and staff accept responsibility for each other and each is enhanced in an ever-growing cycle.
Whether you are looking to work with a good leader, or perhaps searching for ways to become a better leader yourself, you should concentrate on these three areas. Developing good communication skills, hiring the right people for the right job and taking responsibility for your decisions will put you on the right track for a great high-tech career.
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