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Why a Big Personality Isn’t a Necessary Leadership Skill

by Thuy Sindell, PhD. and Milo Sindell, MS.

Think about how we portray leaders — both business leaders and otherwise — in our culture. In movies, they rally the troops with inspirational speeches right when things seem bleakest. They have big, charismatic personalities. This is what we think about when we envision leadership skills.

But is that what it really takes to be a great leader?

New research from Michigan State University found that leaders who take a preventive approach, which focuses on heading off mistakes rather than promoting innovation, can be just as effective as leaders who focus on big ideas. In fact, the study found that it’s often more important for a leader to be supportive and to set clear expectations than to be charismatic.

However, being supportive and giving clear direction looks distinct at different leadership levels. Here’s a look at a few situations you may face and the leadership skills necessary to succeed depending on whether you’re an executive or a manager:

When Setting Goals

As an executive

Your job is to set goals for the entire organization. But how you approach goal setting trickles down and affects the goals at every level. Given this fact, it’s important for all of your goals to be backed by the culture and values of the company.

Clearly tying each big picture goal to something that defines the company helps align targets throughout the organization. From the top on down, leaders will see what everyone is striving for and can do their part to achieve the greater goal by setting incremental team goals.

As a manager

Being a manager means you’re in the trenches. You see how individuals work and what they are capable of. This makes you better equipped to set individual goals that are customized to each person’s potential.

Use objective assessments to find out what each employee’s hidden strengths are. This will help you identify areas to develop the individual and enable them to be higher performers contributing to the company.

When Gathering Employee Feedback

As an executive

You want to understand what is going on in your organization. Knowing how employees feel, what their motivation levels are, and what inspires them is very important to guiding leadership. Depending on the size of your company, it can be difficult to gather all this information from talking to people one- on-one.

However, your employees still need to have a channel to voice their opinions. This can be done through regular employee surveys or by formally having all managers ask for employees’ input during their performance review meetings. If managers actively ask people about how they are feeling, they can then report what they find out to you.

As a manager

First and foremost: listen. Even if you’re not having a sit down discussion with your team, they will give you insights about what they’re thinking. The words they use to describe their day-to-day tasks can give you an idea about what is bothering them or what they like about the workflow.

For example, if your team uses words with negative connotations to talk about a certain project, they’re probably unhappy with those responsibilities. This is your cue to ask them about what’s going on, why they are unsatisfied, and how they see the situation improving.

When Communicating With the Team

As an executive

Know that not everything you say has to be the St. Crispin’s Day speech. Instead of spouting flowery, inspirational prose, strive to be clear when addressing your employees. Be honest and transparent. This will help develop trust with them so they have faith in you and the support you offer.

As a manager

Discuss the problems your employees are facing and determine what they need to succeed. When faced with a challenge, it’s not always clear what the solution is. This makes it your responsibility to lead the conversation so you can uncover what types of resources will be most useful in the situation.

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