Here are, apparently, four qualities to make you a better leader

4 Traits Of Leadership

Via a study from McKinsey of 189,000 people in 81 global organizations, here are four behaviors that will apparently make you a better leader:

  • Being supportive
  • Having a strong results orientation
  • Seeking different perspectives
  • Solving problems effectively

Let’s unpack this, shall we?

1. This isn’t some “be-all-and-end-all” study that instantly says “This is how you become a better leader.” No. Leadership is insanely nuanced, and it means different things to different people — and in different industries. There’s no one-size-fits-all whenever you see this type of content, and I don’t think this is trying to be that either.

2. Item No. 1 makes a lot of sense; being supportive in turn builds trust, and building trust benefits you as a leader. I think there are still too many managers who are afraid that “being supportive” can be viewed as “trying to be friends,” and there’s a lot of classic management advice that you shouldn’t be friends with your employees. Thing is, as generations change, classic management advice has to evolve as well.

3. “Having a strong results orientation” can get a little dicey. I think what McKinsey was going for here is this newer idea around “purpose at work,” which is admittedly hard to achieve. I suspect most executives would read this and think “strong results orientation” means “hitting those numbers.” When you have a culture that focuses too much on hitting those numbers, I think the leadership starts to become more managers — a “manager” is a different concept than “a leader.”

4. “Seeking different perspectives” is important, obviously. One thing I’ve observed at a lot at different places I’ve worked is that top people tend to cluster together. That’s honestly awful. When the top people only meet with the other top people, information is horribly incomplete in broader meetings — and also, that typically means the company is actually being run by the middle level. Why do I say that? Because if the top level is always in meetings, then who’s actually answering the e-mails and making the hour-to-hour decisions? The middle. Point is: “different perspectives” is often viewed as “diversity,” especially in hiring and placing teams. In reality, it’s not that. It means “talking to people in different departments, at different levels, and really taking the pulse of what’s happening.” It’s not that hard to do.

5. “Solve problems effectively” = again, probably means different things to different people. I’d assume most old-school, hard-line managers again think of this as “getting after it” or “hitting quarterly targets.” What I think it means is thinking more long-term. See, you can put a Band-Aid on a deluge of water, and it might hold for a bit, but it won’t hold for 2-3 quarters. Businesses — and, fuck, families — have been doing that for eons. “Here’s a problem. Let’s immediately solve it rather than permanently solving it, because the latter might take some time that I don’t have right now.” When you short-term solve a problem, the problem comes back. And guess what? It eats up more of your time when it comes back. So I think the idea here is long-term vision in terms of problem-solving, but I may be wrong on their intention.

Leadership is such an interesting concept because its iterations are so vast, and can be contextualized so differently. But one thing it’s not is super-complicated: it’s basically just a hierarchically-down representation of trust, efficacy, respect, empathy, and coaching — while attempting to provide purpose. It’s essentially a corporate version of ‘The Golden Rule’ when done right, with a little bit of self-awareness mixed in.

Ted Bauer