Why is it so hard to be a great leader?

We have all read or even written posts about what makes a leader.  I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Why is this so hard?!  

I had bosses who were leaders.  

I had bosses who were managers.   

I had bosses who were delegators.   

I had bosses who were dictators.   

I had bosses who were weak.  

I had bosses who were strong.   

I had bosses who were strategic.  

I had bosses who were tactical.   

I had bosses who were nice. 

I had bosses who were mean. 

I had great bosses.  

I had horrible bosses. 

So, what makes a great leader?  Is it different for everyone? 

Here is what I think makes a great leader.  Based off the great leaders I had in my work history.   

  1. Wouldn’t ask me to do anything they wouldn’t do themselves.  Great leaders know their departments and could step into every single position on the team, seamlessly.  A great leader knows the work, knows the customers, and knows the culture of their teams.   One of my greatest bosses led Talent Acquisition for a Fortune 500 organization.  As their executive recruiter, the searches I was given were difficult.  Needle in a haystack type of recruitment (I refuse to use the squirrel/unicorn analogy).   This leader would stop everything he was doing to brainstorm the search with me.  The fun part of this was that he LOVED to recruit still.  That mattered! It was fun for him to leap into the beginning of the search to brainstorm companies to pull from, look at market research, work WITH me on the search.   It was fun to have a boss that was so passionate about the work.  Not just the result.  He would never ask me to do anything he wouldn’t leap in and do himself – even as a senior leader.  This type of leader is fun to work with – creates passion in the workplace.  I felt like my job was bigger than it was – I made a difference for the company. That retained me in that role. The bigger purpose.

What would a bad leader do?  A bad leader would delegate.  A bad leader wouldn’t understand what goes into the work.  A bad leader would forward a request and say, “figure it out” and then wait on the result.  A bad leader would not understand what their team does to get the work done.  We have all had this leader.  Working for a leader like this means you must take it upon yourself to become the subject matter expert – you must do the research and figure it out – you must step outside of yourself and be better.  Not everyone can handle a leader like this. It can become overwhelming. The worst thing do to with this leader is say, “This is not in my job description”.   They will make your job a nightmare.   So, either succumb to how this leader manages or find a new position with a more collaborative leader. 

2. Trusts their Employees.  A great leader creates autonomy on their team.  The ability for their team members to work at a pace that works for them.  The ability for their team to openly collaborate to come up with solutions.  To create a trusting environment communication between Leader and Employee need to be strong and expectations need to be set. Consistent 1:1 meetings between leader and employee is crucial for deliverables and performance conversations.   A leader in this category trusts the employees to work with senior leadership and allows for the development of the employee.  Any leader that trusts creates an environment of freedom on the team.  Employees feel empowered and responsible for the success of the team.  Retention is inevitable.  No one leaves a leader that creates an environment like this. 

What would a bad leader do?  A bad leader would monitor their employees.  The leader that calls three times in a row if you happen not to pick up the first time – then follows up with a message asking, “Do you see when I call you?”  The leader that asks you why you left work at 4:15 instead of 4:30. The leader that wants to see your emails before you send them.  The leader that tells you what to say in meetings. The leader that asks you to document what you do all day. The leader that wants to gossip about coworkers.   I can go on and on, but I think we can all see it’s a nightmare to work for.   So how do you work for a leader like this?  You leave.  I wish I could give advice on a way to get around this, but this is just inexcusable behavior and that person should not be a leader.  So, unless you can create a coup d’etat – find a new job with a stronger leader that trusts your work and allows you to be a success. 

3. No Surprises. Raise your hand if you love annual performance reviews!  if you have a great leader, the annual performance review conversation is easy.  There are no surprises. The conversation turns into a collaborative conversation about how you can continue to grow and develop.  A great leader gives constructive feedback that will help you.  A great leader will not surprise you during performance conversations – you will already have a relationship where nothing is unsaid.   A great leader will also create transparency between you and the organization.  A great leader will clue you into corporate organization updates, company news, strategic direction and what you can do to capitalize on those changes.  A great leader will allow you to learn the organization outside of your own tactical position. Business acumen will only make you a stronger employee – and more engaged in your role in the organization. A true leader will tell you everything they know to make you a success. 

What would a bad leader do?  A bad leader would keep secrets, lots of secrets.  An environment of paranoia. A bad leader would wait a year to tell you that 6 months ago a VP complained about an email you wrote. A bad leader would not deem your team worthy to know about organizational changes or company strategy.  A bad leader would be tactical and not strategic – do your job and don’t worry about what management is doing.  Best way to manage this type of manager is communication.  Ask the questions – ask how you are doing, ask if you can do anything better, ask if they have received feedback from customers about your performance, ask about the company financials/strategy.  Own your experience and force compliance.  If they refuse, time to hit the job boards. 

We have all had great leaders.  And I am sure some of the bad leaders at least taught us what we never want again.  I just think about this and say, “HOW IS THIS SO HARD?”.  

Treat your employees with respect, teach them, develop them, trust them, and step into their shoes every now and then.  Create a team of collaborative, excellence, and passion.  You would be surprised how easy it is to retain employees if you would just try.