Achieving success as a team leader calls for balancing multiple qualities, which can vary according to personality, generation, and company size and maturity, according to Hilary Grosskopf, founder of Awake Leadership Solutions.
SCB: What are the qualities of a great team leader and business leader today?
Grosskopf: They span a range of characteristics. One is having a vision and being able to articulate it. “Vision” sounds like a high-level word, but what does it really mean? Having a vision meaning knowing what your team is responsible for, what the team's mission is, and how that dials down into specific tasks that need to be accomplished.
SCB: And another quality?
Grosskopf: Providing the right support. It’s knowing the support you need as a leader, but also understanding the support needs of your team, so they can do their best work. It's almost like how a fountain works — if the reservoir isn’t full, the fountain's not going to work beautifully. That's how I think of support.
Another is being able to delegate effectively. A lot of leaders, especially modern ones, struggle with that. Also important is being able to inspire and motivate a team. How do you keep your team inspired to come into work every day?
SCB: How do you follow through and execute on all these things? That’s where even the most powerful and inspirational leader might let the ball drop.
Grosskopf: Following through. It’s about returning to that vision and making sure you're actually executing on it.
SCB: You have some very specific ideas of what makes a great leader. At the same time, thought, don’t you also have to allow for individual personalities? We're not all going to manage the same, even if we follow the same guidelines that you lay out in your training.
Grosskopf: It definitely depends on the individual leader. There’s a spectrum of qualities, from foundational, like vision and support, all the way to inspiration and motivation. Some people fall naturally on one side of the spectrum. They're stronger on the foundational qualities — more of the hard skills, you could say. Other leaders are more naturally talented at the soft skills, like inspiration and motivation. I think leaders should try to find a balance between the two, but you should definitely play to your strengths and your natural qualities as well.
SCB: In your work with companies, what happens when they grow in size and maturity? How does that change the definition of what makes a good leader?
Grosskopf: I’ve worked with a lot of startup companies that involve very small teams and each person wears many hats. So in a startup, one leadership quality that's very important is the ability to be flexible. On the larger side, as the company is growing or if you're working for a larger company, teams start to grow and have more members. The ability to delegate becomes more important because some people are used to doing everything on their own, so they hoard things and they're scared to give others a task to do. Being able to mentor and teach others to be confident in delegating is important in a larger company.
SCB: Maybe you're asking them to start doing something they weren't doing before. Or maybe they don’t want to let go of their passion, yet have to draw back and let others carry out the mission while they perform the role of leader. That would seem to me to be pretty difficult, especially for an entrepreneurial type.
Grosskopf: Definitely. Passing down work you're proud of or close to is very hard. But if you're going to lead others, you have to enjoy seeing other people learn and do that work. Maybe you can reserve certain projects or tasks that you can still do as the leader, but you also have to enjoy passing them down and teaching others.
SCB: As a millennial, how do you see leadership qualities and expectations differing among generations? How do people of various ages want to lead and be led?
Grosskopf: As a team member, I've had leaders of all different ages and generations. For younger ones today, I think leadership development is a lot more about the intersection of personal growth and professional development. The ideas of professional development and work-life balance used to be very separate. Now I'm seeing them come closer together, as the self-improvement or personal growth journey influences how people lead and act at work.
SCB: What about gender? Are there different leadership qualities in men versus women that need to be taken into account or not?
Grosskopf: I think with men and women in general, they can have different strengths. People say men are usually stronger on the hard skills, while women can be a bit stronger on soft skills and emotional intelligence. From what I’ve seen overall, that’s an observation I would agree with. But it definitely depends. I's just a matter of knowing what your strengths are, and who or where you could learn from.
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