Over the years, I’ve had opportunities both to lead and be led. And I’ve had the chance to work with some exceptional leaders – as well as a few lousy ones.
Everybody has their own style: Two of my best bosses were completely different from each other, both as individuals and managers. Still, I believe that there are a number of things that distinguish good leaders. Here are a few that I try to apply in my own work.
Lead from the front. This fits my personality, because I tend to be a control freak: I never want to ask somebody to do something I wouldn’t do myself. If you can demonstrate what it is you want done by actually doing it, then you can really inspire loyalty among your team. I cannot overstate the power of setting that kind of example.
Be curious. I believe that the motivation to be a great leader is intellectual curiosity – a desire to understand how everything comes together, as well as a constant willingness to learn. If you’re not curious as to why things work or don’t work, I don’t think you can build a sustainable leadership culture.
Use your unique perspective as a leader. True, leadership can sometimes be isolating. But it also offers you a rare vantage point: You have the ability to see everything — the whole forest, not just the trees. That allows you to help processes along, which can be especially useful during tough times: When something goes wrong, for example, I prefer to look at it through this “big picture” lens and try and figure out why it went wrong, or if it’s really “wrong” at all.
Be transparent. Personally, I always get frustrated when people do something and don’t say why. That’s true for companies as well. I believe in saying why you’re doing something — or, for that matter, not doing it. This allows you to handle objections up front. Don’t wait for the issues to come to you. It also empowers others on your team to tell your story – particularly during times of crisis. Otherwise, they start to make things up and speculate, and that’s never healthy.
Don’t feel like you have to hold onto the past. Sometimes, in order to make meaningful changes happen, you have to go against the way things were done in the past. Of course, you need to respect the culture of a place — if you don’t, you probably shouldn’t even be there — but sometimes, others may struggle to let go of bad or outdated habits. Familiarity can be an impediment to progress. Don’t let it sway you.
Finally, be patient. This is always important, but it’s especially important when you are trying to enact important changes. Some people can be slow to adopt and adapt. That’s OK — you need to have the patience and emotional resilience to get through that. No doubt, this can be hard: It’s tiring to have to keep repeating yourself. But sometimes, you might learn that those who took the time to really absorb a new approach — the so-called “slow learners” — are the ones who shine the brightest when all is said and done.
By: John Thiel is the head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and is responsible for the strategic management of 14,000-plus financial advisors and 6,000 client associates, as well as more than 200 private wealth advisors.