What You Can and Cannot Expect from Good Leaders

This is my reflection being a leader moving up the rank for the past 20+ years but also as team members under many leaders in more than five companies in varying degrees of size and sectors. The intention is to manage expectations for you and hopefully help in managing your wellbeing. My mother used to say that disappointment start with over expectations and expectations at the right level lead to happiness, so hopefully you will come out happier reading my reflections. I also want to help contribute in term of perspective of good leaders based on practical experience.

The basis of my own leadership has always been a principle called servant leadership, a leader who function as enabler of his / her team to shine brightly and in doing so, deliver beyond the company and the team (including individually) dreams and ambitions. I fully subscribe to Lao Tzu leadership quote that says a leader is best when people barely know he / she exists, when she / he is done and move on, the team will claim her / his work as theirs, they did it themselves and she / he fade away. I also believe in Tom Peters quote that says leaders don’t create followers (and yes man perhaps) but they create more leaders (who is not just being promoted but who goes on to create even more leaders). I will try to explain a bit more on my perspective and interpretation and hope some can be useful for you who aspire to be leaders (or already leaders but want to grow to be incredible and outstanding ones).

Good leaders without doubt will never abandon his / her team in need and / or in difficult situations. Difficult situations for example when you struggle to complete projects / assignments, under investigations or under difficult personal circumstances. They will call you up and at the very minimal ask how you have been and ask what they can do to help. Great ones will provide uplifting messages and some even goes further to send you small gifts to cheer you up. Good leaders for sure will not leave you alone to fight your own battle and see whether or not you sink or swim, they may let the moment be your learning to swim but they will be at the edge of the pool ready with to jump or already in the pool to help you when you are tired, you will hear them shouting encouragement along the way. Good leaders will fight for you when you are right and help you plan for your career development at least once or twice a year having deep conversation about it, not just some tick the box conversation that doesnt result in any kind of learning or concrete learning plan. Great ones, will assume accountabilities even when you are wrong (they deal with you next of course in closed room) and will talk about your development even in casual conversations, let alone regular coaching until you moan because you hear it too often like mother / father nagging about your future. Great leaders ask your ambition and aspirations, challenge you if yours not ambitious enough and remind you when you don’t feel like doing more. This is basic expectation, without which you can immediately put them in not-so-good leaders box. 

Just like great coaches, you have love hate relationship with your leaders at times because there will be time when they will break your bones by giving you challenging assignments, but keep in your mind that they are doing that because they want to see you become the very best you can be, beyond your dream. That giving challenging assignments actually a challenge in itself, lazy leaders will not be able to think of challenging assignments for you to do. That giving you a tough development conversation in which you learn what you are not doing right and what should you do after requires a thorough preparation and courage, only courageous leader who truly love you as his / her team will do it, ergo a good leader.

Good leaders model the right professional behaviors and the right professional capacity level without fail. These behaviors includes continuous learning, diligence and thoroughness at work, caring to his / her communities (and not tick the box), demonstrate the right level of expertise for his / her level of leadership and role and courage to admit when they are wrong and demonstrate steps they are taking for improvement and correction. Compliance to policies, integrity (thou shalt not steal in many forms, including time and perks that is not theirs to begin with) and great ones showcase humility. While this sounds to be a perfect leader, you should check at least 80 – 90% of what makes good leaders capacity-wise. 

Some leaders are promoted beyond their capabilities, they demand something that is not only cant be done but also sometime demand something that they themselves don’t really understand in full (echoing someone else like his / her peers or superiors or someone she / he sees / hears somewhere and sound smart). Great leaders, they can see ahead, fully conversant in commercial and financial implication of actions, truly understand the technology required for business to succeed but most importantly, they know what they need to learn to be able to be a leader that can help you plan and troubleshoot, when they dont know the answer. Great leaders are thoughtful, questioning him / herself and not easy to normalize a matter and take a quick easy decision that down the road is not beneficial for the team and the company.

However, there are also many things that you cannot expect from even great leaders. You can’t expect good leaders to know everything there is to know, however, they will handily admit when it is the case and help identify resources to access for you to get the answers and know when and where they can get help – in timely manner. You cant expect good leaders to not have downtime or experience emotional moments, but you can expect that they know how to minimize or recover. You cant expect good leaders do not make mistakes or can always fully anticipate what will happen risk-wise, but when they do you can expect they readily admit (and great ones ask for your forgiveness) and work on solutions and remedies. You cant expect good leaders not to get annoyed with you, but you can expect that they will let you know why and how you can recover, in the process a great leader know how to do this in the least way to upset you and even in the uplifting way. You can expect some good leaders don’t have all of what it takes to be good leader but they will readily admit and you can see they are working hard to be good ones, tirelessly. 

I can tell you that in my 3 decades working, good leaders let alone great leaders, few far in between. I subscribe to the adage that one work not for the company but for the leaders. So, treasure the best leaders you have around you, learn from them and build life long relationship because once you are a good leader it is unlikely you change into not-so-good ones. If you spots other leaders around you that are good / great ones, approach them, learn from them and build relationships that one day enable you to work with them one way or another. There is such thing as indirect leadership, therefore those good / great ones indirectly related to you can indeed help you grow and make you successful.

I hope you all realize that you need to aspire to be good ones and never cease to make a continuous effort to be a better one. Talk to your team, get them to comfortable zone to give you honest-to-goodness inputs and you should be thankful especially for those that are not so great. It takes a courage to give one not so positive feedbacks, they can do it only because they love you to bits. If you are not good leaders yourself, that is you today, but not necessarily you tomorrow and for sure in the future. It is up to you whether you want to skate through life as leaders or you want to passionately continue to grow yourself to be great leader one day and be part of the legendary leaders. I hope there will be more of you who will choose the later and help the world become a better one for our next generation.

Meanwhile, you may ask me, what if I work for and / or around not-so-good leaders ? Read my next article here.

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