What are the challenges of leadership today?
JF: There is so much information coming from so many different sources, it is often very difficult to wade through all the garbage and figure out what are the real critical pieces of information that need to be the basis of your decisions.
It is easy to lose sight of the people you lead, as you lead. It seems counter-intuitive, but when there are pressures coming from your boss (every leader has a boss!), you can be pressured to be more attentive to the bottom line, whatever that may be for your leadership position, rather than showing nurture and care for those you are leading.
Finally, it is easy to become distracted from the main goal. Things like email, voicemail, your phone, the internet, games, etc., pull us in different directions. But sometimes even more so, there are lots of little goals that each seem good in their own right, but keep you from focusing on the big one, the main goal, the number one thing you need to get done. Stay focused.
What do you think are the most important traits in a leader?
JF: I think it is very important that you are knowledgeable and competent in the area that you are leading. This is the number one thing that will cause people to lose respect for a leader - if it is obvious he has no idea what he is doing. People don't like following a sinking ship.
Honesty. People have become jaded and expect the opposite. If you are always honest, you will gain people's trust. They will understand that you mean what you say, and that you are not saying something different to someone else.
Humility. Acknowledging mistakes, not acting like a know-it-all, asking people for their opinions (and actually following up if they are good ones), being willing to jump into a task and work with people shoulder-to-shoulder goes a long way.
Tomorrow: Jerry talks about making tough decisions and preparing to lead.
Jerry Foster is Vice-President of Research and Development at Plex Systems.