Five Things Great Leaders Do Right

Rich Berens
Rich Berens,
President ,
Root Inc.

To state the obvious: Great leadership is of paramount importance to any organization. Great leaders set the direction for the organization and determine resource allocation to get it done. They create the tone by how they lead and make decisions. They nurture and enable a culture to thrive. And to do their jobs well, they must be deeply committed to the business and to empowering their people to succeed.

From having worked with dozens and dozens of leadership teams, I have learned that there are many great organizations and leaders out there who work hard to do the right thing. Yet, despite the fact that most leadership teams have nothing but the best intentions for their people, data tells us that less than 50 percent of employees view this as the truth1. This begs the question: Why aren’t employees’ perceptions matching up with leaders’ intentions?

If you’re concerned that your people don’t have confidence in you as a leader or that the perception of the leadership team doesn’t match your efforts, you might need to challenge some of your approaches. The best leaders always learn and fine-tune their game. After all, you’re the captain of the ship, and you are ultimately responsible for the success of everyone on board. The five qualities below are ones that I have found exhibited by some of the best leaders I have had the privilege to work with. They are the most critical actions and behaviors that great leaders and leadership teams need to embody in order to thrive in their role.

  1. Leaders are storytellers. The best leaders have the ability to paint a compelling vision for their people by defining what winning looks like in a powerful, understandable way. They connect with people’s hearts as much as with their heads. They aren’t following a PowerPoint presentation at a town hall meeting; rather, they are speaking passionately, without jargon or business catchphrases, in a way that can’t help but inspire and motivate their people.
  2. Leaders are dot connectors. Successful leaders create a common view of where the business is, where it needs to go, and how it’s going to get there. They provide clarity at all levels so individuals have a well-defined idea of how their personal goals fit into the big picture.
  3. Leaders keep important conversations in the room. By creating an environment built on trust, honesty, and safety, leaders make it okay for the meaningful conversations to happen in the conference room rather than in the halls and at the watercooler (where most people feel they can be truly open). When people trust that their thoughts will be heard in the right way and feel safe that their careers won’t be limited by a new or different idea, they’ll speak more openly. Strong leaders welcome “against the grain” thinking and the resulting debates – that’s when the best ideas come out.
  4. Leaders are transparent about decision making. When leaders do it right, they skip the tiptoeing around decision rights. They create the environment for healthy debate and are upfront with everyone about who is accountable and who will be making the decision. Consensus is an important and powerful thing, but alignment and support on decisions trump every time.
  5. Leaders motivate people to own the whole. The best leaders foster communication that occurs across the business units of an organization, not just from the top down and bottom up. When leaders ensure that their people from various disciplines are interacting and supporting each other, silos are broken down and everyone beings working together to achieve the big objectives. It’s not always easy to be vulnerable, give up some control, and put aside personal interests for the good of the whole. But, a true leader will help people concern themselves with the “whole” before their own particular piece by encouraging, recognizing, and rewarding this behavior.

Throughout the 17 years I’ve been with Root, I’ve seen many great leaders and many average ones. The difference between good and great is often a slim margin. These five qualities could be that difference. It’s what some of the very best are doing.

If you feel stuck in a leadership rut, here are a few quick ways to reenergize your leadership skills:

  • Take your business hat off and define a compelling future that’s told in layman’s speak. Test it on your family, friends, and even your neighbors. If their eyes glaze over, then it’s time to do a compelling “gut shake” and try again.
  • Check your calendar. Are you spending more time working in the business versus on the business? Remember, your job as a member of the leadership team is not on the front line – that’s why you’ve hired great people.
  • Test your leadership team’s alignment with the trusty “napkin sketch” exercise. Simply give each leader a napkin and ask them to sketch the vision for the company. Do the drawings match up? Within minutes you’ll see if you have a shared vision or not.
  • Finally, look at your own actions. Are you truly exhibiting and modeling the behaviors that you need others to embody in order to get your business where it needs to go?

1 2013 study: “America’s Workforce:  A Revealing Account of What U.S. Employees Really Think About Today’s Workplace”

  • (48%) of workers think that executives are committed to the company’s vision.
  • (46%) of workers think that executives have the organization’s best interests at heart too.