When you ask anyone what great leadership is, they usually describe a person, rather than a set of character traits. Great leadership is one of those things that is easy to see, but so hard to encapsulate in words.
In this article Margaret Jolly explains the characteristics of good leadership.
Courage and Accountability
Some of the great leaders in business have common characteristics which include having a clear and well articulated vision, good communication skills, executed well and often, have been good listeners, willing to learn from mistakes, as well as willing to admit mistakes, and very resilient.
In relation to safety, there are two character traits which are both important for leaders, and not just for them to display, but to impart to others, and encourage others to emulate. They are courage and accountability.
Courage – In terms of leadership, this means having the courage to stand up for what is right, implement strategy and processes which may not be popular, but which are right for your business and the safety of your employees. All leaders need courage. Aristotle called courage the first virtue – because with it, all other virtues are possible. Courage comes into play in decision making, articulating a vision, having difficult conversations, and taking calculated risks. Staying on a path you know is right when doubt is expressed or obstacles are met, is courageous.
Accountability – Leaders must be accountable – not just to their employees, board or stakeholders, but to and for themselves. Personal responsibility is about admitting mistakes, taking action, and apologising where necessary. When taking credit though, great leaders include others when acclaim is due.
Accountability also means holding others accountable for their actions and setting objectives for others.
Sometimes all people need is good, open and honest feedback to improve and succeed. Leaders need to be accountable for providing that feedback, while holding themselves accountable for outcomes and for those of their staff for their areas of responsibility. This means taking responsibility for things not going well, expecting high levels of performance as well as rewarding good outcomes.
By way of illustration, a CEO of a construction client recently addressed staff on a range of issues including safety. In that address, she said, almost as an aside, that safety was not just the responsibility of the leadership team but each and every staff member, and that staff should, as a matter of course, bring safety concerns to the attention of their manager.
One of the staff members in attendance had been with the company for only six weeks and was already thinking of leaving. He worked for a manager who he was aware was taking shortcuts with some processes, and was also regarded as a bully by his staff.
Because he was not prepared to raise the issue with his direct supervisor, but was planning on leaving, he went to the CEO directly to raise his concerns. He was extremely anxious, and expecting to be asked to leave. Instead, the CEO praised the staff member for having the courage to see her to raise the concerns, and instituted an investigation, quietly, and confirmed numerous problems with safety, as well as serious behavioural issues with the manager putting staff at risk in a number of ways, both physically and mentally.
By standing up and saying what she did, she gave that staff member the courage (albeit shaky courage) to come forward with concerns, and then took responsibility to address the issues, then, and for the future. Because as well as addressing the immediate problem, the organisation embarked on a new campaign to ensure that silence with safety concerns was not the way they did business.
Courage and Accountability – two small words with a big impact!
Margaret Jolly is the principle of Margaret Jolly Consulting
You can contact Margaret at margaretjolly.com.au or call us on 1300 773801