The character of a leader bears much influence on the company’s culture, which is why they need to lead with integrity, courage, and humility to foster a healthy environment for their employees. Self-awareness becomes the key to unlocking these traits. “Without self-awareness, we are prone to project onto, stonewall, or blame others; by doing this, no progress, no good communication or (business) relationships are possible,” says Sharesz T Wilkinson, a Forbes and Harvard Business Review Advisory Council member, strategic advisor, and executive communication expert. “They need to know themselves, have a grip on their own mind and emotions, and know how to effectively self-regulate in any given situation,” she adds.
In this article, we spoke to Sharesz about the skills all leaders should have and how they can master them. Find advice below on how managers can help their teams thrive through these difficult times and also learn to become better leaders at the same.
What are the main traits that define a leader and how does one go about acquiring and sharpening them? Have these changed with the current global crisis? If so, how?
Sharesz T Wilkinson: Leadership is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. Ideally, a leader needs a strong and adaptable character. They need to have curiosity and empathy to keep learning, integrity to handle power with experience and wisdom, and self-awareness to be a good role model. They should also have good communication and behaviour skills as well as the humility and ability to delegate tasks in an efficient and timely manner. Cooperation and gratefulness are key to being respected. A great leader inspires, motivates, and empowers their employees through their behaviour and actions.
A leader sets the tone for their company, their team, and their employees. They need to lead with laser focus which means they need to provide a clear vision, do the strategic planning and make decisions on the go while keeping a calm and steady attitude. It takes courage to go against popular opinions and take a stand for what needs to be done. Leaders are not always liked and often have to stand alone. They need to be able to stick out their head when things get tough and keep a positive outlook and attitude regardless.
We can all learn to level up in the above-mentioned areas through continuous self-development and self-improvement. It starts with self-awareness and identifying the gaps in our character or skill set. Once we know our shortcomings, we can then start working on our skills, step by step by step.
Many will find, that the amount of work and effort that are needed to reach these levels of leadership are beyond what they are willing, able, or capable of doing. It needs financial means, steady progress, unwavering commitment, and often a lot of sacrifices to reach and stay at the top.
What has certainly changed with the pandemic is that university and professional development courses have now become accessible to anyone who wishes to learn about leadership. The ivory tower concept has faded, and the internet has allowed for a truly democratic approach to learning and expressing opinions. What in previous times was only accessible knowledge for the privileged few, is now available 24/7 online for anyone with an internet connection. Yet the key remains in knowing how to connect the dots.
Leaders had to become humbler and more approachable than before the crisis, as most suddenly now work from home. The status symbols such as cars, expensive watches, exclusive suits, and other material expressions of power became far less significant. Cutthroat office politics and playing manipulative games faded away as we were suddenly all in this together. Leaders who possessed authenticity, transparency, honesty, approachability, empathy, and excellent communication skills were placed in the spotlight. Funnily enough, they were often female leaders and politicians around the globe who got the most acknowledgement and praise for how they handled this crisis.
Where does communication sit in a leader’s list of priorities when it comes to teams, clients, and other stake holder’s management? What are the top 5 most valuable communication skills you have developed throughout your career so far? How has each skill helped you become a better communicator?
Sharesz T Wilkinson: Communication is the vehicle that drives us to our destinations. It is paramount for a leader to develop excellent communication skills to be able to lead their ship in the right direction. There is simply no room for ego, personal triggers, and emotional reactions for a great leader. They need to know themselves, have a grip on their own mind and emotions, and know how to effectively self-regulate in any given situation.
I would say the number one skill that needs to be honed is self-awareness. ‘Know yourself, know the world’, as the saying goes. Without it, we are prone to project onto, stonewall, or blame others; by doing this, no progress, no good communication, or (business) relationships are possible. In fact, these behaviours are utterly destructive.
It takes humility and a backbone to acknowledge mistakes and challenges as stepping stones and not as failures. Once identified, we can then work on the necessary changes and improvements within ourselves! My advice would be to never try to change others – it is pointless. The only person we have a certain level of control over is ourselves. Start there.
Gratefulness follows closely, as no one is an island and can do everything by themselves. We need others to learn from, give feedback, move us forward, help us to develop different points of view and perspectives. Manners have never hurt anyone. A simple ‘Thank you’ or acknowledgement of someone else’s work achievement can go a long way.
Once we have developed these skills, conflict resolution becomes far less personal and more effective and professional. We are better able to focus on the task at hand and we learn how to deliver our message in a way that can be heard and received by our listeners, without becoming personal, defensive, or even offensive.
It is crucial to maintain respect for people, no matter how they behave, as they often do not know any better. As Michelle Obama so poignantly said: “When they go low, we go high”. I strongly believe she meant ethical values with this statement, and not sitting on a high horse.
Once we have worked through our own issues with honesty and commitment, we become much more empathetic towards others as we know how difficult the journey can be. Keep in mind that people simply don’t know what they don’t know.
As a leader, it is crucial to model and enforce good behaviour so it can spread throughout the company culture. If we see lousy customer service, it all starts with the values and ethics at the top.
Sharesz is a multiple award-winning international speaker, author, entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist. She works with leaders, organisations, Fortune 100 companies, and ambitious individuals in business, entertainment, sports, and politics around the world on how to maintain top-level performance and get results during challenging times. Sharesz’ contributions were published on various platforms such as Forbes and the BBC among others. She received the ‘Visionary Leader Award 2021’ and is a senator in the Grand Assembly of the World Business Angels Investment Forum (WBAF). Sharesz T Wilkinson has represented The Speech Improvement Company (TSIC) in Boston for over 50 years, worked with the White House, and taught at Harvard, and MIT. For more information contact her at email@example.com or via her linktr.ee address at https://linktr.ee/stwilkinson.