On Being A Leader

What makes a great leader? I’ve been giving this some thought this week as I’ll be speaking, along with one of my business partners from GoGirl Academy, founder Suzanne Keel-Eckmann, to a class of young women leaders in the UW Foster School of Business this coming week. I think back to some of my best bosses over the years (mainly news directors and general managers of TV stations), and a number of things stand out. Here are some of them:

Vision. A great leader has a vision, a plan, and a way to make it happen. It’s not enough to have a great idea — it helps to know how to make it happen. I’ve worked with some terrific managers who had a plan for success, and laid it out carefully so that the entire team was invested in its success.

Communication skills. Leaders need to be able to communicate their ideas to the team, and inspire confidence. If you have a great vision or idea, but don’t know how to express it — you’ll be dead in the water.

Prepare and do the work. It certainly helps if a leader knows the company or organization inside and out, and knows how everything works, and fits together. One thing I love about Suzanne, whom I consider to be a terrific leader, is her willingness to jump in and do the work if needed.

Ability to make decisions. Yes, the buck stops here. Leaders need to be accountable for their decisions, but they have to make the call first. I once worked for a GM long ago who was terrified of making a wrong decision, and didn’t make any decisions at all — just reacted to various situations. As you can imagine, it was a recipe for failure. He didn’t last.

Life-long learners. Learning doesn’t end when you walk out of the classroom. Solid leaders are continually learning new ways to do things. Seek out people, groups, or books that can teach you new and innovative ideas, and ways to be more effective.

Help others succeed. No leader is a success on her own. It’s take a team, and people working together to build a successful company. Giving your team and employees the tools they need, and helping them develop the skills needed to do their jobs well will bring rewards beyond the initial job. It creates an atmosphere of caring, in addition to increased performance. One boss I had consider the rest of the employees ‘little people’ and treated them as such. Morale at that company? Poor. People tried to succeed in spite of the boss, not because of him.

Consistency. Once you develop your vision, or plan — execute it. One of my favorite bosses loved to come up with plans, we would carry it out, and if it didn’t get us the desired results, she would analyze whether we were executing the plan properly. If so, we stayed with it. If not, we tweaked the plan and tried again. She was very consistent in how she managed her vision for the newsroom, and employees knew what to expect. I’ve worked for other manager where the plan changed week to week — literally — depending on what the ratings did. The only consistent thing was the manager’s inability to stay the course.

Integrity. Leaders need to do what they say they’ll do. Be honest, trustworthy, and have integrity.

We all would love to be great leaders, or at the very least, work for them. And these are just a few of the traits I think that are needed by an effective leader. What do you think?

Margo Myers, Principal, Margo Myers Communications

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