The hard truth is, a large number of people in positions of leadership really aren’t all that effective. Of course, “effectiveness” is hard to quantify. A quick internet search provides a dizzying number of articles on characteristics needed for effective leadership. I know many people in positions of leadership who have worked to embody such characteristics. They are, for example, smart, personable, have a positive attitude and are deeply committed to their organizations. Shouldn’t these things make them effective? Perhaps it is not so much individual characteristics as a simple set of behaviors that draw on those traits that lead to effectiveness.
A recent Harvard Business Review article highlighted the 10-year CEO Genome Project, which identified four behaviors demonstrated by high performing leaders: deciding with speed and conviction, engaging for impact, adapting proactively, and delivering reliably.
In terms of decisiveness, the study did not say that effective leaders’ decisions were always the right ones. Missteps are often easier to recover from than making no decision, or a half-hearted one where one is merely trying to hedge his or her bets. Thus, rather than waiting for all the information, the simple act of making a decision can be a core attribute in leadership success.
Understanding who needs to be engaged, and how best to gain buy-in, is another core factor in effective leadership. Different stakeholders may have different motivations. Effective leaders understand this and seek out ways to align multiple “wins” for greatest impact. More than a matter of strong communication skills, engaging for impact is about first developing a strategic roadmap to know what to communicate to whom to find the fastest route to the ultimate destination.
When a leader moves into uncharted territory, the ability to adapt and respond proactively is a core trait that will separate high performing leaders from the also-rans. That sometimes means taking two steps forward and one step back. Success is rarely a linear process. Effective leaders know this, and expect that at times they will have to adjust their efforts to reach the final destination.
Setting realistic expectations, and then reliably delivering wins, might seem like an obvious attribute for effective leaders. In fact, all four of the behaviors identified in the study seem pretty self-evident. Leaders sometimes get so mired down in long lists of desirable leadership characteristics, that we miss the forest for the trees.
Maybe instead, we need to focus on four simple behaviors, which research has shown are key factors in overall leadership effectiveness. Simply effective . . . sounds like a winning plan!