“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others.”
American General Douglas MacArthur

The search for the right “leadership” recipe occupies volumes of books, white papers, blogs, and articles —  and more than a few have probably quoted the late General Douglas MacArthur.

When I work with clients, one of the first things I home in on is their company’s overall culture. Ultimately, I want to know who and what is driving that culture.

“(True leaders) do not set out to be a leader, but become one by the equality of their actions and the integrity of their intent.”
American General Douglas MacArthur

It’s no secret that most successful businesses have strong leaders — those who can put their own egos aside, nurture the ranks, and empower innovation. Creating a positive workplace culture may be “king,” but that’s not enough.

What’s the real difference between leaders such as Richard Branson of Virgin Group, who have no problem attracting top talent, and those who struggle to move their company forward?

For me, it’s integrity.

“Respect is how to treat everyone, not just those you want to impress.”
Richard Branson

I was brought up to believe that equality in the workplace means leaders and managers treat the president and the janitors with the same modicum of respect and dignity, while fostering opportunity for success at all levels. Those are the leaders that have integrity, and that integrity breeds a dynamic culture.

Branson’s philosophy on management is as follows: Employees come first. They are treated as if they are the most important asset in the company, for good reason! Next in line are the customers. If the employees are treated well, they will be fiercely loyal and in turn will take care of customers and clients. Last on the pecking order are shareholders, not because they aren’t important, but because when the first two align, shareholders will do well.

Branson makes it look easy, but it isn’t really. Creating a culture of happy, loyal employees takes effort, dedication, and yes, integrity.

General MacArthur infers true leaders are born, but I disagree. True leaders work hard at developing their skills, they focus on their company’s potential…not necessarily what it is today.

You can apply this approach to any team, but it has particular resonance at the top. When C-suite leaders embrace this philosophy, the trickle down effect will be extraordinary and create a true coaching, mentoring culture.

During my career, I’ve worked with countless people in leadership rolls who have struggled to achieve what Branson has. Here are five distinct common traits that make a leader fail. (The good news? All can be fixed.)

  • Lack of Vision — Besides being visionaries themselves, great leaders always ensure their management team not only understands the vision, but feel just as passionate about it. They need to feel comfortable and confident enough to be loyal…even follow blindly. Think General MacArthur and his troops.
  • Lack of Transparency — Like paisley ties, opaque is out. Today’s employees want to be a part of the process and yes, they want to know the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some things may remain private — mergers and acquisition deals, perhaps IP development and/or R and D, but the vision should be transparent! What are the new ideas, where is the company headed…tapping into the team for insight benefits all. Innovation breeds when great minds are brought together.
  • Tell vs. Ask Attitude — This one is very obvious but it’s a topic I coach often on. No one likes to work with or for a drill sergeant or a micromanager. Similar to transparency, teams want to be included in the process and prefer to be asked their opinion versus being told constantly what to do. Successful leaders are open to ideas, innovation, AND criticism. They don’t tell, they ask.
  • Taking Credit, But Not Responsibility —The great leaders of the world take responsibility for business decisions — good or bad. That’s very different than taking credit. When a company thrives it’s because of the hard work of the team, and that’s where credit is due. When a company fails to thrive it is on the shoulders of the leadership — always.
  • Having a ‘Do As I Say Not As I Do’ Mentality — Another obvious issue, but one I often see. Leaders must “lead” by example. If you wouldn’t do it yourself, never ask your team to do it for you. Remember the adage: All for one and one for all.

In the end, it really is about integrity, being human, and treating your team with respect and dignity — that’s the secret sauce of leadership. You can take lessons from Richard Branson, or even your competition, if they are thriving and attracting top talent. If you aspire to be a great leader, an objective coach can help chart the right course.