What do great leaders have in common? In this podcast, I’ll share XANT’s Founder Dave Elikington’s insights on leadership.
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In this article:
- Self Evaluation
Five Traits Great Leaders Have in Common
According to Elkington, there are five important leadership traits that are often cultivated over the course of one’s career. Great leaders will have a few, but most will work towards getting more over their careers.
Leadership Traits Definition: These are characteristics that make someone an effective and successful leader in their organization.
What are these five leadership traits? Keep reading to find out.
1. Domain Expertise
The first trait we discussed is domain expertise. A leader, by definition, leads the way.
It’s important for leaders to be experts in their own fields. Individuals who are experts in their fields are knowledge producers.
A leader who possesses this trait will probably be engaged in knowledge producing or proliferating activities such as writing, speaking, providing industry presentations, podcasting, or other similar activities.
As a leader, you’ve got to make sure that you lead from the front. You need to be the person people look to and you have to actually show your team how it’s done.
Another feature of this trait that is often overlooked is the importance of aligning one’s personal brand around their company’s brand. Otherwise, the mismatch will make your presence in your company seem random.
2. Hiring and Recruiting
Hiring and recruiting are important components of leadership because these activities help shape the company’s culture. And a great leader should be on top of the hiring and recruiting process.
Hiring and recruiting will define your company or team’s culture. You need to explicitly hire towards the kind of culture you envision.
If there’s something that needs to change in your company’s culture, it’s best to examine the people who make up the culture. Expect to make personnel changes when it’s necessary, even if it’ll require you to hire slow and fire fast.
I don’t recommend outsourcing this activity to a separate human resource team because it rarely works out. Great leaders play an active role in hiring and recruiting.
A great point that Elkington made was that hiring and recruiting activities don’t just happen when there are positions available. A great leader knows that this is an ongoing activity, regardless of the availability of actual jobs.
Elkington believes that you should “recruit and build your pipeline constantly even if you don’t have available positions. You need to be looking for great people you can just be talking to.”
Great leaders need to be visionaries and this is especially important when you’re recruiting. While recruiting people, you need to be able to share and sell your vision.
Who Should You Be Hiring?
Interestingly, Elkington actually prefers hiring rookies, saying “you want to get more into the fresh talents — meaning, you want to build people.”
Elkington recommends hiring people for their potential, and not just their skill set.
He recommends hiring people who possess the 70-30 ratio. Talented and promising candidates who are 70% inexperienced but have high potential and posses about 30% experience.
They have that go-getter, hustling attitude you can’t teach. These are the people that get things done.
As you consider a potential hire, keep in mind that skills can be taught and learned, but you can’t teach or learn talent and potential.
3. Building and Mentoring
Building and mentoring is the natural progression of hiring and recruiting. Once you have your team, you’ve gotta be able to grow your team.
Following Elkington’s 70-30 ratio will mean there’ll be plenty of talent in your team, but it also means there’ll be a need for constant mentoring.
This reminds me of the farm league model where you recruit rookies and train to make them pros. Great leaders take the time to mentor their team to become great.
In building and growing your team, I don’t recommend forming committees. Committees tend to slow things down.
You want to bog down on planning:
- Define your strategies
- Empower your team
- Let them make suggestions
- Let them build within certain confines
I believe that building a team goes hand-in-hand with culture building. Growing your team means growing your culture, and you have to make sure that your team’s culture works within the confines of your company culture.
4. Numbers, Numbers, Numbers!
The fourth trait of great leaders is that they understand the numbers in and out. Leaders need to be aware of their baseline data and they need to be able to systematically track their progress.
Great leaders need to know their leading indicators and lagging indicators. It’s important to ask for regular reports and meetings to review the progress on things that are happening.
A great leader needs to know the numbers better than anyone else on the team. Great leaders use the numbers to help motivate their team.
It’s also best to incentivize the team based on the data. People naturally focus on what they’re paid for.
In many companies, people are just paid a salary from a fixed scale. When there’s no psychological ownership over the tasks they are responsible for, it can be problematic.
5. Executive Relationships and Sponsorships
The last trait that great leaders possess is all about how they engage with their peers. You need to develop and build relationships with peers within your company and external to your company.
Fostering positive relationships within your own company is important.
If you’re a salesperson, getting the deal is an important first step, but one of my mentors told me that the bigger battle is actually the sale that needs to happen back home.
You need to make sure you have people cheering for you in your company. It’s important to have people who are excited about what you’re doing and who support your goals.
At the same time, fostering relationships with peers outside your company is equally important. It’s important to develop your external relationships and networks so that you can benchmark against them.
Take the time to have meals with these peers and think of other ways to connect with them. Elkington makes it a habit to connect with one person per week.
Meeting with people isn’t enough, you need to be able to form a real connection.
In fact, Elkington says, “if you can text them, then you have developed a relationship with them. Until then, it’s not really a peer-to-peer strong relationship.”
I took some time to reflect on how much of these leadership traits I’ve achieved on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. Here’s how I rated myself:
- Domain expertise: I give myself a 4 because I feel like I know sales. I’ve also proven that by running and consulting for different teams.
- Hiring and recruiting: I give myself a 1 because I’ve left it up to HR to hire and recruit for most of my teams. I understand that it’s important, but I just get too busy to oversee it.
- Building and mentoring: I give myself a 3. I’m giving myself an average rating because I’ve identified my leaders, we meet weekly to discuss books, and I regularly engage in one-on-one sessions with them.
- Numbers: I would give myself a 2 because I outsource some of this to my team. I want the numbers, but I never take the time to write the reports and figure it out for myself.
- Executive relationships and sponsorships: I’ll give myself a 4. I’m pretty active with my professional network, but I do recognize that I can exert a little more effort with my internal relationships.
It’s a good exercise to go through each of these components and give yourself a rating. In this way, you can identify opportunities for improvement and work on these throughout the course of your career.
Don’t worry if you don’t think you have all of these traits. Great leaders spent years cultivating and developing these. Knowing what you’re good at and your areas of opportunity is a great place to start.
Great leaders are able to manage around their weakness as they continually develop their strengths.
What do you think of these five traits? Have you tried to give yourself a rating for each of these traits? Let us know in the comments section.
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