Five Qualities of a Lasting Leader

By Barry Banther

Acting as a leader in a call center isn’t just something you do; it’s someone you become. But, that requires a personal transformation, not just a personal agenda. Roger hadn’t learned that lesson. During an interview for a new leadership position, the hiring manager asked why he switched jobs, and sometimes companies, every few years.

Roger blamed the employees who stopped growing and doubted the organization’s commitment to the goal they asked him to reach. In other words, it had to be the environment because Roger was a good manager. Roger was half right; it was the environment. But, he failed to recognize that he was responsible for creating that situation.

Lasting leaders, those who can weather economic downturns, and even seismic market shifts in their employees or customers, are the ones who know how to assemble a diverse team and bring out their best. As a leader, if you’re not building relationships with your associates that will last, your success will be short-lived.

If we want to understand what really defines leaders, then we have to start by looking at their followers. The old motivational tricks no longer work. Employees become jaded from broken promises and failed dreams. Today, followers are drawn to leaders who show openness, invest time, listen, encourage, and show appreciation for the strengths their employees bring to work. These qualities are developed intentionally over time, but they pay dividends in both financial and personal performance for a lifetime.

Leaders who are held in the highest esteem for their success on both the bottom line and with the people they lead epitomize five key qualities. From their followers, you will hear phrases like these: “He was always there for me,” “I felt like she really listened,” and “He valued my opinion.” The result is employee engagement at the highest level. These qualities are gifts that a lasting leader is willing to give freely to the people they lead.

1) The Gift of Being Open to Others: Every leader claims to have an open door policy. But, it’s not a leader’s door that needs to be open; it’s an open mind that matters. Openness encourages employee engagement, and that is fundamental to business success. The Gallup Organization’s study of employee engagement in 7,939 business units in thirty-six different companies found that “employee engagement was positively associated with performance.”

2) The Gift of Investing Time in Others: Leaders are usually not solo inventors or lonely creative thinkers. They are called to assemble a team of people and enable them to be more productive together than any of them could be alone. Leaders can’t create time, but when they invest their time to build profitable relationships with their employees, they are multiplying the results they can achieve. Choosing to spend time with employees daily is a leader’s best return on time.

3) The Gift of Listening to Others: Trust between leaders and their associates is built upon a transparency that reflects a freedom to speak and be heard. Bad culture, where listening isn’t valued, impacts organizations every day across America. An estimated 55% of a leader’s work time is spent listening, but most leaders don’t know how to do that. They confuse listening with hearing. When we are open to an employee’s ideas and we invest the time to hear them, then we are more apt to understand what they are saying and, sometimes more importantly, what they are not saying.

4) The Gift of Offering Encouragement to Others: Employees can work for hours without food or water. However, they can’t do quality work for more than a few minutes without hope: the hope that their work matters, the hope that they can get the job done, and the hope that their effort will be appreciated by their boss. You have few chances as a leader to show respect for employees that is more potent than surprising them with words that show you believe they have what it takes to get the job done despite their current challenges.

5) The Gift of Expressing Appreciation for Others’ Abilities: When a leader gives away genuine appreciation, it is mirrored back in improved attitudes, stronger commitment, and better performance. Study after study documents that employees do not feel appreciated. The gift of appreciation is not about altering your associates’ opinion of the leader; it’s about changing their opinion of themselves. When a leader helps employees believe in their unique strengths, they build a work environment that works. Lasting leaders know how to bring out the best in others.

You can be appointed someone’s boss but not their leader. Your followers ultimately determine your leadership. Had Roger developed these five skills, he might have still moved jobs every few years, but it wouldn’t have been because he could no longer get results. It would be because he had developed a reputation for building a high performance team who followed his leadership, even under tough conditions. That kind of leader is always in high demand.

Barry Banther is the founder and CEO of Banther Consulting. With decades of experience as a business leader and corporate executive, he has become a trusted advisor, leadership speaker, and trainer for Fortune 100 companies, as well as midsize to large family-owned businesses across America. Barry’s new book, A Leader’s Gift: How to Earn the Right to Be Followed, will be released in April 2014. For more information, visit www.barrybanther.com.

[From the February/March 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]