#1 Leadership means focusing on the needs of others, not yourself
Real leaders try to provide service - to their team, their customers, and anyone else met. Leadership is not a 9-to-5 job. By focusing on the needs of customers, and then trying to align his or her team in ways to meet those needs as well as the needs of the team, a leader gets the job done and develops followers. Customers want to work with a leader because a leader team produces results. Your team wants to follow your lead because you take into account its needs and requirements.
To improve your leadership skills consider spending as much time with your customers as you do with your team.
#2 Leadership comes from your actions, not your title
Some of the best leaders don't have CIO or VP titles. Leadership in fact has nothing to do with title or pay-grade. Leaders lead because others want to follow them. Why would anyone want to follow a leader? Because a leader motivates its followers, gives them purpose, supports them, guides and mentors them, and even "takes flak" to protect them.
To be a better leader you need to ask yourself some hard questions. If you are not leading then you are dictating, and no one follows a dictator.
#3 Leadership makes you accountable, even if it's not your fault
A leader take full responsibility for his or her mission and with this comes accountability for failure. Leaders don't blame their team, or complain about unreasonable customer requirements. Leaders set expectations by focusing on the needs of others (Trait #1) and build consensus for what can be accomplished. If something goes wrong, a leader accepts responsibility - even if it was a team member that was the cause.
Think about the last time someone on your team made a mistake. Did you support and counsel them? Did you turn the failure into a learning opportunity? Or did you ridicule, shun, or punish him or her?
#4 Leadership is not a 9-to-5 activity
Being a leader means focusing on the needs of others and helping others when they fail. This can require additional work, even after hours. Often it is only personal engagement that uncovers the root cause of an unhappy worker. And many times these root causes present opportunities for improvement beyond the single worker.
Do you stay and work with the team? Not just being in the office, but do you actively engage and work to deliver when required?
#5 Leadership takes trust from your followers
When you focus on the needs of others, motivate your team, and satisfy your customers, when you take responsibility for success and failure, when you engage with your team on a personal level, then you build trust. Trust does not come easily. You have to earn trust. It won't come because you have an impressive title. You can't buy, barter, or steal trust. You have to earn it. You have to follow the first four traits on a regular basis for enough time to have earned the trust of your customers and team.
Do your customers trust you? Does your team get behind your ideas because they know you will protect and guide them?
#6 Leaders get their best ideas from their team
The best ideas are not going to come from the leader, but rather from those being led. A good leader develops consensus for a project based on its relationships to customers, company, and staff. Exactly how the project should unfold is often best left to the team to determine. Nothing so engages and commits a team to a leader than for them to be part of the design of the solution. No one knows the job better than the person who does it every day.
Do you dictate schedules to your team or do you and your teams negotiate on how to get things done? Ask your team for their ideas - and then use them. Just remember trait #6 - always give the credit to the team. The leader's credit comes only by crediting the team he or she leads.
#7 Leadership thrives on diversity
I love the story about the IT group at a major retailer. The business needed to know the conversion ratio: that is, how many people entering a store purchased something. IT began brainstorming traditional IT solutions -- complicated, highly automated, and expensive. On a whim, an IT leader asked a non-IT person how they might determine how many shoppers who came into a store actually purchased something. The non-IT solution after just a few minutes of thought was to hire a couple of temporary workers and have them count the number of people entering the store and then leaving with a shopping bag.
Instead of the typical all-consuming and expensive 18-month IT project more likely to fail than succeed, they got a cost-effective low-tech solution in a few hours. The best ideas come from those who don't think as you do. Expand your circle of relationships; nurture those who think differently from you.
#8 Leadership comes from continuous communication
To be able to lead and embrace these traits requires communications skills. I'm not talking about superior comedic skills when presenting. I am talking about person-to-person verbal and non-verbal communications.
This is counter-intuitive, but to present your ideas requires that you listen. To understand and accept the ideas of others requires that you talk. These are skills many people never develop, but all true leaders seem to have mastered.
In a meeting, do you do most of the talking? When you are listening to others, are you an active listener, repeating what you have heard to make sure you understand what was said?