Challenge is the crucible of leadership and there is no time like the present to look for the leaders in your organization. So what should you look for - and how can you create the environment to bring out the leaders?
There are many books which have been written about leadership in companies - probably thousands - and they run the gamut of styles: developing leaders through process (a favorite with HR teams), mentoring, motivational etc. But in a small company the hunt for leadership is a very practical one. You need people who can step out of the group to make a difference.
All the books and papers on leadership can be boiled down into a handful of critical behaviors to watch for when you challenge your organization:
- Embracing risk. Future leaders have an appetite for risk (see my post on leadership and risk) and see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to make change happen, to have an impact, to make something new happen. The risk can be personal (looking a fool, failing) or it can be for the company (losing a stretch deal, developing a risky product that never works) but it is the risk itself that will stretch the team and the emerging leader is often the person most comfortable with the level of risk. Conservatives need not apply.
- Having followers. The phrase is old and corny - "the definition of a leader is someone other people are following" - but it's so true in a company. Making new and significant change happen, especially in technology, rarely happens through authority. It happens because someone has an idea and motivates with the idea so others follow. When I am looking into my organization for leadership I look for whose ideas are carrying the day, and how is that person communicating and nurturing the ideas to have other people follow them.
- Lead by doing and succeeding. People want to be successful and they will often follow someone who they can observe being successful, someone who gets things done. The motivation is to learn, to be around a winner, to have the fun of being on a winning team. It's almost impossible to be effective as a leader if you are not effective as an individual and many leaders emerge because they are good at what they do and other people want to work with them and for them to learn themselves (although sadly this is not always the case of who gets promoted ...).
- Putting the company first. This is one I often see ambitious people early in their career forget. Especially in politicized companies or organizations where there is a great deal of personal wealth to be made (think company headed into an IPO or an aggressive bank). But as a CEO my interest is always 100% company first. It's the only way to measure success. So when I see someone posture or behave in a political way for their own gain I don't care how good they are, I can't see them as a leader. One of the five values at FirstRain is "Take ownership for the company's success" and I look for which employees have taken on the company's success as their own.
I don't prescribe to any one style of leadership being better than any other. Society often remembers leaders from the Great Man or Hero theory of leadership - like President Obama today - who use intelligence and charisma to lead. But in a company you need more than great men (or women) because you need to find the ability to lead different skills sets and personalities who will respond to different styles of leadership.
But if you are the leader of a company or a team, whether they work for you or they are a team you are leading across your community, you can find your anchors, the people who you can count on to help you get the job done, by looking for these four simple characteristics: embracing risk, having followers, succeeding and putting the company (or your shared goal) first.