Dr. Rick Franza, Professor of Management at the Hull College of Business, discusses a different, timely business topic each Monday in this column. This week, he examines the characteristics of a good leader. The interview has been edited for clarity and impact.
ABD: What is the difference between being a boss, or manager, and being a leader?
Rick: A leader earns authority whereas a boss is ordained authority – but that doesn’t make someone a good leader. The difference between a manager and a leader is that you manage things and lead people. You can be a good manager without being a good leader.
To be a leader, you have to have people following you. You have to find the traits that are attractive to them to make them want to follow you.
ABD: What are some characteristics of a good leader?
Rick: People tend to respect their leaders and what drives that is accountability. At the end of the day, a good leader takes accountability for what goes wrong. It involves ethics and honesty. You have to engender trust in order for people to follow you.
You have to show courage, that you’re not afraid to make tough decisions, and be vulnerable when failure happens. You show that these decisions aren’t easy, but you’re willing to take the risks.
ABD: Communication is often cited as a key to effective leadership.
Rick: Communication is important. You need the ability to make tough decisions, but you also need to communicate why you made those decisions. Keeping people informed is important, especially on a personal level, if possible.
It helps to know your people the best that you can. I should know stuff about my people – their spouses and kids, what they like to do, their interests. When I was dean of the school of business, I went to breakfast or lunch with every one of my people. It was an open line of communication. I got to know them better and they got to know more about me. It was humanizing the situation.
The goal of leadership is to get people to do things. If you want to get people to do those things, you have to know what motivates them. A one-size solution to motivating people never works.
ABD: Some of the best leaders I’ve encountered are those who trust the employees to do the job without micromanaging.
Rick: A leader needs to empower people without over-delegating. You don’t want to micromanage, but you also don’t want to defer tough decisions you have to make.
Along with that is showing that you’re not above everything that’s going on. I’ve always respected leaders who don’t ask their people to do things they’re not willing to do themselves. It demonstrates concern for your people. Humility is a big component of leadership.
ABD: I’ve also noticed that good leaders don’t necessarily know everything, but are smart enough to empower the people who do know the things they don’t.
Rick: One of the biggest characteristics of a bad leader is insecurity. You have to be willing to hire people better than you in certain things, and then trust them. It’s important to get the best people you can.
Part of leadership is building your leadership team. A good leader keeps his eyes open for other leaders. The best leaders are the ones who see the people they hired go on to be CEOs of other companies because they were given the opportunity to develop their leadership skills.
ABD: What are some other characteristics?
Rick: A leader is fair but as I tell my students, fairness doesn’t mean equal. Fairness is situational. You also have to have empathy, while still holding people accountable. And one of the things that is valued more and more is authenticity.
ABD: Does a good leader have to be the rah-rah, pep-talk type of person?
Rick: There are those who lead by speaking and those who lead by example. You can be a good leader without the rah-rah.
ABD: What is one of the biggest challenges of being a good leader?
Rick: There’s a lot of threading the needle in leadership: Empathy but with accountability. Empowering but not over-delegating. Making tough decisions but being vulnerable. Being one of the people while maintaining that professional distance. You need to find that balance.