8 Characteristics Every Leader Should Have

Can you skip along your office corridor without inhibition? Do you think in questions, not in statements? Have you earned the right to a legacy?

If so, you’re well on your way to leadership success.

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Granted, these are not the conventional parameters of successful leadership. We’re more used to our leaders described in terms like visionary, committed, accountable, inspiring.

Times are changing.

There is a new leadership benchmark, as defined by a respected roll call of Australian leaders presenting at the annual Future of Leadership Conference.

Where once leaders commanded attention by authority, leaders now must earn it. Where once job titles bestowed respect, instead talent paves the way to success.

As the conference does the rounds of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, we are hearing fresh insights into what it takes to be a leader in a changing world. Here are my top picks from the many valuable gems of advice I heard.

1. Be conscious of your why

“If you lose sight of your purpose, you stop making progress”, says Alison Hill, Co-Founder of Pragmatic Thinking, a behaviour and motivation strategy company with a client list that includes Pepsico, Sydney Water, Siemens, McDonalds and Sydney Trains.

It’s not only the big picture purpose that Alison is referring to, but your daily purpose. Each day, ask yourself why you are taking this course of action or making this decision. Even when holding a meeting, think about why you’re having it and how it should align with your purpose.

The Gallop study of employee engagement has spotlighted the high level of disengagement among Australian workers. A powerful antidote to this disengagement is your ability to find your team’s why.

2. Design systems to make failure difficult

“Don’t rely on discipline or motivation to drive your team. Instead, make it easy for people to feel competent by designing the right systems”, says Dan Gregory, panellist on ABC’s ‘Gruen Transfer’ and marketing consultant to global brands.

Work out the friction points in your processes and find ways to make things run better, explains Dan. Let performance drive engagement.

The more you help your team be good at what they do, the more they will enjoy doing it. Engagement and productivity will skyrocket.

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3. Find the 1%ers

“Find the little things that make a difference – the 1%ers”, says Dr Sean Richardson, performance psychologist for St Kilda Football Club and consultant to the Australian Ballet Company.

Don’t think you can fix everything at once, Sean urges. Look at what marginal improvements you can make. If you’re working long hours at a high intensity, what small changes can you incorporate in your day to manage your energy?

How about cutting 5 minutes out of the end of meetings to recharge by listening to your favourite music. It’s a small change but it’s a start.

There is more chance of making a change in your life by starting out with a 1%er and creating a habit that sticks.

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4. Celebrate effort, not outcome

“Find out what motivates your team and what they are proud of”, says Darren Hill, behavioural scientist and culture change consultant with a client book of Fortune 500 and ASX Top-20 companies.

Leadership is all about motivating your team, but how can you do this well if you don’t know enough about them. Don’t assume that what motivates you is the same as what motivates them, Darren cautions.

Ask your team members to write down three things they have been proud of at work. Tell them to think about the journey, not the outcome. Their responses will give you a powerful insight into how you can keep their interest and motivation.

5. Write down your legacy

“Constructing your legacy in written words makes you think deeply about what you have earned the right to say about yourself”, says Tricia Velthuizen, a leader in education and honoured with CEO of the Year.

Look ahead to five years from now and write a story about what you will achieve, urges Tricia. Think about what you hope to be able to say about yourself. Perhaps you want to be brave enough to try new ideas or optimistic enough to have fun along the way.

Use this story to lead your team from a place of hope. Inspire those around you by your honesty and forward-thinking approach.

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6. Take up skipping

“There’s something about the childlike action of skipping that makes us laugh”, says Lisa McInnes-Smith, global keynote speaker and expert on peak performance.

Next time you’re walking down the corridor at work, try it out for yourself, take a few skips and see what happens. Lisa predicts that you’ll feel happier, more energised and ready to meet new challenges.

At the Future of Leadership conference, Lisa had the whole auditorium skipping. We took a few skips on the spot and then progressed to imaginary skipping ropes – forwards, backwards, crossover skips.

It’s extraordinary how much laughter and heart rate pumping a minute of skipping can generate!

7. Think questions, not statements

“Statements close up possibilities, questions open them up”, says Dan Gregory, a behavioural researcher and ABC Gruen series regular.

Questions like ‘why this’ and ‘what next’ should inform your everyday decisions, explains Dan. Ask yourself: “what are the questions I am not even thinking to ask”.

With a curious and inquiring mind, you’re more likely to consider all perspectives, not only your own.

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8. Source outside talent

“Look outside your office walls and source talent from around the world”, says Gihan Perera, the world’s No.5 social media influencer in his field.

Don’t let the physical confines of your office restrict your talent pool. Seek the best and brightest, knowing that they can connect to you from virtually anywhere.

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