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Top Traits of Great Business Leaders

Bosses. We’ve all had them. Good, bad, indifferent. What sets the good ones apart from the rest?

If you have difficulty relating to or mobilizing your staff, perhaps it’s time to do a little self-assessment and determine what leadership qualities you may be lacking.

“My favorite project manager always had my back,” recalls Susan Wall, a freelance instructional designer from Lisbon, New Hampshire. “He also trusted me to do my job, and he challenged and encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone.”

Angela Leighty, a dental hygienist from Montpelier, Vermont, shares that a simple “thank you” at the end of the day is what set her boss apart. “Every day as I was leaving, he thanked me and told me to have a good night. I never realized, until he was gone and I had a new boss, how good those words made me feel. Even though I know that my other bosses are thankful for all our hard work, I still really miss hearing that.”

There are some pretty staggering statistics that do not speak well for management in today’s organizations:

  • A 2012 Australian opinion poll suggests that 29% of people in that country’s corporate workforce feel their bosses are ineffective leaders.
  • In 2010, the Hay Group®, a global management consulting firm based in Philadelphia, reported that leadership accounts for 70% of corporate atmosphere, and corporate atmosphere accounts for 21% of company performance.
  • Another survey, conducted in 2013 by staffbay.com, a British recruitment firm, found that of the 15,000 workers surveyed, 87% were dissatisfied and wished to leave their current jobs. When asked why, 53% said they didn’t trust their bosses.

Some of the attitudes that workers have toward their bosses involve feeling inferior; as we all know, there’s an uneven distribution of power in these types of relationships. A report in USA TODAY on December 21, 2013, also shows that workers do not like bosses who tend to micromanage; who are condescending, controlling, patronizing and power-hungry; and who seem to not know what they’re doing.

And workers want to be valued.

“This is so important!” advises Greg Hackenbracht, founder and president of Tastee Apple Inc.® in Newcomerstown, Ohio. “I may own the business, but the person on the production line or cleaning the floor will most likely know more about that task than the owner does. Listen to your employees and incorporate their thoughts into the job at hand. The work will get done faster and better, and if your workers are smiling, then so should you.”

According to Hackenbracht, it comes down to listening. “It took me a long time to understand this. I micromanaged my business for many years. I was involved in every aspect. It was needed when the company was tiny, but it hurt when we tried to grow. Once I stepped back and began to listen to the people I work with, I learned so much and we grew quickly and profitably. Listen to those who are working with you. Their opinions are vital, and unless you want to do every job, their opinions are sometimes more important than yours!”

Of course, this all coincides with honest communication. “There is no place for deceit in any aspect of business,” states Ehren Doty, DC, owner of AX Body Mechanics in Phoenix. “And having concise and clear communication skills is invaluable to any professional.”

Doty notes that she maintains transparency with her patients. This is important whether you’re communicating with current or prospective clients, with students or with employees. “I answer all questions honestly, so that there are no surprises.”

To learn the benefits of developing a more transparent business, see the article “Transparency: The New Standard for Business Success” in the February 2015 issue of IDEA Trainer Success.

Hackenbracht and Doty agree that passion is a necessary trait for any good leader. You need that passion “for many reasons,” Hackenbracht explains. “This is going to be your life, and this is where you will spend most of your time.”

It’s not necessary to feel passion for all aspects of your business, Hackenbracht clarifies. But you must have a passion for what drives your business. In the fitness field, for instance, the desire to help others and the love of seeing them succeed should be two large components of your passion project.

“They say, ‘Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life,’” remarks Hackenbracht. “Well, I do not believe that is true. It will be work, and there will be days when the tunnel looks very long. But if you have passion, the tunnel will be a little shorter.”

And this passion will help you develop your own work ethic. Heidi Burkhart, president of Dane Professional Consulting Group and founder of Saxon/Hart in New York, advises you to be yourself and embrace your values. “As I started my career in NYC, I was told I was too nice. I would write thank-you notes and bring homemade cookies to clients, but my employer at the time told me to be more aggressive. Although I worked for her, I quickly realized that we all have different strengths we rely on to get results. When I started embracing my Midwestern roots and developing my own work style, I felt more confident and really started to succeed in business. Just be you. And be sure to write those handwritten thank-you notes. I promise they will eventually produce the best return on investment every single time!”

Your personal work ethic is born at least partly out of your personal vision. “Making strategic decisions for your company can be stressful,” empathizes Joel Basgall, president and CEO of Geneca and a frequent contributor to Entrepreneur magazine. “I’ve learned that decision making becomes simpler and more straightforward when you have a clear picture of what you want the future of your organization to look like. Once you have this, you can clearly see the path forward. Think of your decisions as a natural outcome of your goals.”

Those handwritten notes can be a part of a vision that includes making a personal connection with your clients. Do you see how this is all connecting?

Fortunately for the fitness industry, Burkhart believes, physical activity is an extremely important trait of the most successful leaders. In fact, Entrepreneur reports that according to TheLadders™, an employment website, 75% of executives feel good physical fitness is critical for career success at the executive level.

“Even on my busiest days, I find time for the gym,” reports Burkhart. “This is when I am in my most meditative state—in a zone of inspiration, determination and reflection. The ability to be alone—just me and my music—is a very important part of my daily routine. When you’re engaged in physical activity, your mind becomes open, things become clearer, and ideas start to click. I love the process—setting goals and working to achieve them—and I credit much of my success in business to a well-balanced lifestyle of health, fitness and wellness.”

So what makes a good leader? To be honest, I expected my sources for this piece to list traits like aggressiveness, confidence, making your work your life and going for a goal no matter what. It was refreshing to see their responses, because ultimately, being a good leader involves the same traits as being a healthy, happy, decent human being. Lead on!

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