Zappos.com, the online retailer of shoes, bags and clothing, made headlines recently when the entire company did away with job titles to facilitate a more holistic style of work and management. Zappos made its way on to Amazon’s ledger in 2009 for a cool $1.2 billion, so they must be doing something right. While that type of equality-centered leadership isn’t likely to take the business world by storm any time soon, it raises some interesting ideas regarding the nature of leadership — especially when being in charge isn’t an assumed part of your job.
For many people in management and middle management, answering to someone else while trying to keep yourself and others on task can get difficult. Whether you’re in charge of a business’s operations or just aspire to be, leadership qualities are essential to having the career you want, getting quality work out of people and enjoying the ride. Here are some essential qualities of leadership that you need to develop in yourself — even if you aren’t yet in charge of anything or anybody.
Even if you’re last person on the bottom rung of your current job, being honest will only serve you well. When coworkers and bosses know that they can trust your word, and your work, you’re more likely to be considered for advancement or trusted with extra responsibility. To that end, guard your integrity. Don’t cut corners and admit to problems — even when it’s hard or it seems like it may temporarily set you back. Honesty is a character trait that takes practice. As long as you keep at it, you’ll make you a more effective leader.
The ability to identify and feel other people’s emotions, whether they’re positive or negative won’t just make you a popular boss or coworker, it will also help ensure the decisions you make take into account all the people who will be affected by them. That, in turn, will help your employees and coworkers trust you. Empathy is a trait that serves everyone well.
Taking the lead is not for those who only keep working in fair weather. Because life can be full of curveballs, a lack of passion will mean a high failure rate. Unless you love what you do and are committed to it, you aren’t cut out to lead. The path of running a company, loving an aging spouse, managing a difficult child, brokering a deal — whatever it is that you want to do well — will sometimes be difficult. Without passion to sustain you, the difficulty may do you in.
Respect is a two-way street, and employees know when it’s being withheld. If you play favorites based on status, title or bank account, it will wreak havoc on people’s opinions of you. So, regardless of whether you’re in charge of 200 people or 20,000, work hard to treat everyone with equal measure. After all, you never know who may end up being your boss one day.
If empathy is the ability to look out and see how others are feeling, then, self-awareness is the ability to look within. Leadership demands self-awareness — regardless of talent, education or know-how. Get acquainted with your strengths and short-comings, and improve the areas of your character or expertise that need it. Knowing yourself is one of the greatest assets you can possess, but it only comes about through practice. Develop it early, and develop it often.
Being able to communicate your desires to another person is an essential quality of leading well. Having a great idea without the means to convey it accurately to your team will ensure your great idea never becomes a reality. If you struggle in this department, here are a few tips that will help you improve your communication:
- Make eye contact.
- Listen — really, listen.
- Keep your phone out of sight and out of hand while talking with a boss, employee or coworker.
- Visualize what the other person is saying.
- Speak clearly and get to the point.
- Follow up to make sure you were understood and that you understood.
You probably won’t just land in a leadership position without considerable effort. Leadership is a practice of certain, honed characteristics that will create better companies, better work environments, more stable communities, happier families and a more stable and meaningful life.