Marc Strachan: 5 things I've learned about leadership

My leadership style has been shaped by my experiences, my personality and my purpose, writes Diageo North America's VP of corporate relations and constituent affairs.

Campaign US' Annual Morale Survey has once again revealed that leadership is the No. 1 most-cited cause of low employee morale. All this week, as part of our first-ever Leadership Report, we're exploring the issue through the eyes of those who live it every day.

During my career tenure, I have benefited from a cadre of supporters. Many mentors. A few coaches. Some were great leaders. Others were not. Regardless, all left indelible marks on me, helping develop my leadership strengths. My leadership style is a blend of my experiences, my personality and my "purpose." The following are five key traits that I believe everyone should strive to make a part of their leadership toolbox. So, here we go:

Be brave, bold and clear. This trait is a common characteristic among great leaders. You should be brave in the sense that you are comfortable in your abilities and capabilities. You are not afraid of failure, and due to your self-awareness and self-confidence, you tend to be bold in your decisions. You may not have all of the answers, but you have enough information to balance against your experience and move forward (or not). Key here is that people looking to you as their beacon, appreciate firm, bold leadership. It reinforces their inner belief that their leadership is the right leadership for the challenge(s) at hand. It provides a platform to respect you and follow you and your decisions to achieve the end goals.

Listen, adjust, and then act. And bring others along! The outdated "autocratic" leader made his/her decisions and expected everyone to follow them to the letter. No questions asked. This was often adhered to out of fear. Today's leaders are challenged with significantly different thinking, values and points of reference from their rank and file, and their executive peers. Good ones have learned to truly listen to their teams. Not paying lip service, with some annual Q& A sessions. But truly listening, with their ears to the ground. They want to know what is happening in the trenches, and what is motivating, or not motivating, teams to perform. They listen, and incorporate these learnings into organizational strategies. What is critical here is that leaders must respect their teams, and more importantly, like people. I am amazed at how many leaders, working in a people-centric business, do not like people. As a result, many never train new leaders, and their wealth of experience often goes untapped. They failed to bring others along!

Read: Wendy Clark on inspiring your pitch team

Surround yourself with people much smarter than you. When possible, the best leaders surround themselves with people much smarter than they are—especially in centers of excellence that they don't excel in. Some people are naturally born leaders. However, for the majority, leadership is honed from years of nurturing and development. Key outgrowths are humility and previously mentioned self-awareness. The best are always working to get better. We are all good at some things, and not so good at others. In my experience, it is a good tool to surround yourself, when applicable, with people much smarter that you. Why? They will make you smarter! They fill your gap areas, which in turn, strengthens teams. Great leaders do this in areas they are not strong in, ergo, opening themselves to exposure, transparency, growth and further development.

Chart a crystal clear course. This should be the simplest leadership trait. Too often it is not. The best thing leaders can do is to provide their teams with clear and concise understanding of decisions and direction. Second-guessing, trying to interpret what "you think" a leader means, creates confusion, lost time and paralyzes systems. My teams and colleagues perform best when I am crystal clear on objectives and their roles in making in achieving them.

Read: Nancy Hill on 5 things I've learned about leadership

Know your purpose. I am privileged to work for a company where training and development are valued and abundant. More training than one can master. There is a commitment to developing and nurturing potential and existing leaders. Three years ago, I was chosen to participate in a yearlong leadership development course for VPs. It was the best training experiences of my career. I was assigned internal and external coaches. Their goal was to administer training tools and facilitate homework. Most importantly, they worked hard to strip away layers of personal and psychological insulation (often self-made) that I believed was protecting me, but in most cases was hindering me from being my true self, and therefore reaching my maximum leadership potential. Their most critical deliverable was helping me to define and articulate my "Purpose." This has proven invaluable. It "freed" me of many psychographic shackles, and as a result, I became a better leader. I am a huge advocate for this exercise. I firmly believe no one who desires to be a truly great leader can do so, with our defining, and accepting his or her purpose.

Well, there you have it. I trust these nuggets prove beneficial to you on your Leadership Journey.

Cheers, Marc.

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