When it comes to discerning the behaviors and traits of the most successful people, there is no shortage of information available on the topic. And part of being a great leader is a continual improvement mindset, so learning from the right sources is vital, especially given how time-starved any leader is today.

So when I learned that the polling and research giant Gallup had conducted a 50-year look at the most crucial, no-miss traits a successful leader must have, my eyes and ears lasered in. 

Gallup studied top and middle managers as well as front-line supervisors and conducted tens of millions of interviews across 160 countries over five decades to come to the conclusions outlined by researchers Jim Clifton and Jim Harter in their book, It's the Manager.

While they can point to 20 dimensions they found in successful leaders, they pinpointed two no-miss traits (that also stood out to me) as the most important because of the amount of agility they bring to an organization. Here, I'll take a closer look at these two traits and how you can develop them in yourself.

1. The ability to bring multiple teams together.

This one surprised me a bit at first, until I really stopped and thought about it. The Gallup team is absolutely right that very little good work, in big companies or small, is done without powerful collaboration.

Unfortunately, not enough companies are truly great at fostering collaboration. Pulling multiple teams together into an effective unit happens when the leader focuses on leveraging one of the most powerful forces on earth, a sense of interdependency.

How do you create this?

Start by having 3C goals: goals that are common, compelling, and cooperative. Common goals mean that everyone will be working toward the same end. This is critical when pulling together multiple teams, because it is highly likely that each team, independently, has different goals.

The goal also has to be compelling enough to create energy on its own and draw each person toward it. It has to personally matter to the team.

Furthermore, the goal has to be cooperative in nature--meaning that everyone realizes the only way to achieve the goal is for the team to work together (versus as a set of individuals working to achieve the goal independently).

Being specific about every team members' deliverables is key, as is having clear role definitions for all team members.

2. The ability to make great decisions.

The very best decision makers have figured out something that is almost counterintuitive about the process of deciding. I've watched many decision makers over my three decades in corporate who believed decisions were best enabled by first gathering reams of data to sift through.

But it's far more powerful to spend less time gathering data and much more time crisply defining the problem. Thus, you gather less data, but the right data. This means you'll have less information to sort through (and potentially be confused by), but it's more relevant data and you can get to it far quicker. This nets a faster, higher quality decision. 

I saw this consistently in working with creatives at advertising agencies. The best, fastest work always came from a tight creative brief--a sharp description of the problem to be solved and only the most pertinent information required to focus the creatives.

As part of that problem solving and pertinent information gathering, great decision makers also follow what I call the tension principle. If you're making a decision that everyone seems to align to all too quickly, chances are you haven't sought out enough relevant alternative viewpoints to test the validity of your decision. It's about enrolling a range of just enough relevant perspectives to productively challenge the pending decision.

It's also important to note that, counterintuitively, the belief that decisions should be made only objectively, based on data and without emotion, is just plain wrong. Allowing empathy (along with gut instinct further informed by your EQ) to factor into decision making is critical for making the best decisions. It forces accountability to those most affected by the decision.

Finally, making great decisions starts with actually making a decision, i.e. not being indecisive. To avoid this, keep these things in mind:

  • Don't lose sight of the objective, so that you avoid overcomplicating and delaying the decision.
  • When it comes to gathering data, don't cross the line from pragmatism to perfectionism.
  • Choosing not to decide is still a choice--one that dodges accountability. You owe your organization an answer. They may or may not agree with it, but they'll be happy you made the call so everyone can move forward.
  • Remember there's a cost to not deciding (burning more employee time and energy, falling behind competition further, skyrocketing costs, to name a few).

By building these two traits, you're far more likely to create commitment versus compliance--and that's a key indicator of any great leader.

Published on: Sep 10, 2019
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