Great leaders just keep delivering results, even under difficult circumstances. Despite challenging goals, internal and external pressures and all the roadblocks encountered along the way, these leaders continue to find ways to motivate their team to persevere and win.
What is it that sets them apart? Why do the teams they lead consistently deliver on objectives? Why are they such great executors?
Having coached in one form or another for more than 40 years, I’ve seen hundreds of leaders in action. From coaching Australian State and National Basketball League (NBL) teams to becoming a business coach for over 23 years, consulting with some 300 plus companies, there are some key traits that I see in all great leaders.
Here are the five distinct characteristics I’ve witnessed first-hand that help great leaders consistently achieve their objectives:
1. They have a clear purpose
These folks are crystal clear on their goals. They set simple, precise objectives, are direct on roles and responsibilities and leave no doubt on their expectations of the behaviour required for success.
At Nitro, we use a very simple team performance document called the “Nitro 90”.
It’s essentially a one page document that lists the top three objectives for the quarter, for each ‘Nitronaut’. It’s a living document that is reviewed and assessed against constantly. Each team leader also gets a Nitro 90 that lays out the measurable objectives and the key strategic initiatives for their team to solidify their focus and support the team’s growth and performance.
2. They don’t get distracted
Distractions are the single biggest killer of execution. Whether they’re internal distractions like competing tasks or technological distractions like Slack or LinkedIn, a great leader knows how to cut back on these distractions to get the most out of their team. The great executors understand this implicitly and attack the problem in two ways.
First, they will ensure the team and each individual is only focused on a maximum of three things at any one time. Any more than three and the effort starts to become scattered and unfocused.
Second, they will ensure all activity is focused on the objective.
The introduction of a possible new project or direction has to first pass the acid test question, “will this help us succeed?” Ultimately good leaders know when to say “no” to unnecessary activity.
3. They deal directly with tough issues
Great executors make tough decisions and aren’t afraid to have the tough conversations. If results are not what they should be these leaders will confront it head on.
If tough decisions are to be made they will make them. They have tough conversations about under-performance and have a low tolerance for behaviour that is detrimental to team performance or is not aligned with company culture.
Ignoring a problem within a team because it seems tough and confrontational only prolongs the issue. It takes a strong leader to set their emotions aside and address problems as they arise to ensure the success of their team.
4. They relentlessly search for improvement
The great executors are on an endless search for improvement. They see their primary responsibility is to get the very best from their teams individually and collectively.
Four questions consistently dominate their thinking and the way they engage with their teams:
- What’s working?
- What’s not?
- How can we improve?
This experience doesn’t have to be painful or confronting for your team. Every department at Nitro has a debrief meeting every Friday at 4pm called “Beers, Cheers & Tears”. It’s a chance for everyone to share the things that didn’t go well for them that week and to work out ways that they can improve going forward, but we also list the things that have worked and the lessons we can take from them.
It’s obviously a big part of our culture, but it’s also an opportunity for us to learn important lessons and move on from the bad experiences so we can reset and improve next week.
5. They are mentally tough
Adversity is always the greatest test of a team’s ability to execute. This is when the great executors are at their best, showing mental toughness when it is needed most. Invariably they will do three things:
- They will look for the truth of the situation and rather than becoming emotional, they will approach the challenge dispassionately, seeking to gather the facts and then with their team make the best decision.
- They will remain confident. They understand implicitly that this is the very nature of business and the reason they exist as a leader is to solve problems. Not surprisingly they seem to enjoy the challenge.
- Finally, they will be there for their team. Realising that it is in adversity their team needs them most. They will support them, encourage them and lead them through difficult times.
Leadership is a skill, that can always be improved. So if your KPIs are getting the better of you, take a step back and consider which of these five leadership qualities you can work on improve performance.
Mark Bragg is the performance and leadership coach for Nitro. He has worked as a business coach for 20 years, across for more than 300 businesses in 23 countries.
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