A Strong Culture Requires Strong Leadership

Team your best salesperson with a crummy manager and what do you get? A resignation letter and loads of business going to your competitor. Team a highly trained and skilled manager with a group of average-to-slightly above-average employees and you’ll soon have enthusiastic and highly motivated team-players willing to bleed for your company. In no time, you’ll earn a great reputation in your market and industry, and most importantly, you’ll grow.

It’s a fact that the quality of leadership has a direct impact on your brand’s culture which in turn has a direct impact on your productivity and bottom line. And it makes sense – people who respect and enjoy working for their manager consistently perform at peak levels. It’s a sad fact that too many people are placed into leadership positions based on all the wrong reasons – such as industry knowledge, tenure, or technical aptitude – and then fail.

To be an effective leader requires a very specific set of skills. Read on…

Are leaders born or made?

It’s the million-dollar question, and arguments can be made for both sides. We are all leaders in that we make decisions for ourselves. However, managing a sea of diverse personalities, motivating individual people to consistently give their best, building teams, creating synergies in groups, and knowing how to efficiently resolve conflict where everyone “wins” (feeling as if their needs have been met) are skills that very few people intuitively have. These skills must be refined or taught from the ground up, especially when you consider that most of us developed our leadership styles based on leaders we personally admire or believe to be effective. And here’s the trap – in the absence of leadership training where proven management techniques are taught, managers rely on trial and error with many different leadership styles until they find one they believe works. It’s this trial and error leadership style that frustrates employees and perpetuates already dysfunctional manager/employee relationships.

What makes a great leader?

There are several characteristics that make up the fabric of good leaders, and it starts with having a high E.Q. (Empathy Quotient a.k.a. Emotional Intelligence).

What does this mean? Think about the last three people you know who were fired. Were they shown the door due to their lack of product, company or industry knowledge? Or were they released because of their inability to get along with others or be a team player?

Leaders with higher E.Q.’s, develop cultures in suit where people naturally work and communicate better with each other. This translates into higher productivity, less errors and mistakes and higher morale.

Great leaders are great active listeners. They have mastered the art of acknowledging and feeding back what they hear to confirm understanding. Where many people in conversation are simply thinking of what they want to say and waiting until one person is finished talking so that s/he may speak, active listening involves focusing one’s attention on the function and purpose of a conversation. It cannot be faked. It builds trust, deepens relationships and is the sincerest form of communication there is. One of the greatest active listeners I know walks out from behind his desk, sits down at a small table away from his computer, turns off the ringer on his cell phone and gives his undivided attention to the person with whom he is speaking.

Great leaders also encourage open communication without road blocking. Road blocking occurs when we order, warn, moralize, suggest, use logic, criticize, praise, label, analyze, reassure, question and recommend. In other words, road blocking is steering a conversation toward our direction and way of thinking, inhibiting open and candid conversation. We’ve all been road blocked and know how offensive and irritating it can be. Think of it this way: road blocking is the #1 reason teenagers don’t talk to their parents.

Great leaders don’t solve problems. They see to it that problems get solved. When people come to us with their problems, some of us can’t wait to jump in and tell the person who owns the problem how to fix it. Nothing could be worse for three reasons: 1) the person who owns the problem may very well dump all their problems on you in the future, or 2) you may offend them because you are indirectly telling him or her that they don’t have the intelligence to fix things on their own, and 3) Once you, the manager gets involved, you immediately assume responsibility for the problem and the consequences of the advice given. Consider the fact that the person who owns the problem is in the best position to fix it.

Attracting and Retaining Strong Leaders

Great leadership needs to start at the top, which is why I’m a huge proponent of leadership training. CEO’s are a special breed – they take risks, push themselves hard, can smell the blood of new business, and know how to negotiate and close deals. And then they get back to the office and must deal with egos, attitudes, under-performers, complainers, and a host of other issues they would rather ignore, or don’t know how to deal with and, thus, wears on their patience. Failing to deal with these issues erodes a healthy culture.

What Now?

As the CEO or owner of your company, you need to surround yourself with people who have the same level of passion, determination and drive to win as you do. The only way to drive such a culture is by practicing and perfecting strong leadership skills.

Recommended Reading: Primal Leadership: Unleashing The Power Of Emotional Intelligence

Scott Seroka

Wisconsin’s only Certified Brand Strategist

Principal of Seroka

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