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The Secret to Being a Great Leader

I take a lot of pride in what my organization accomplishes. Not just my department, but every department. Holistically across the organization, we do a lot with a little, and we do it well. I always say we punch above our weight class when it comes to getting tasks completed.

My organization pulls this feat off through great leadership and employees that are all in to get the job done. It doesn’t matter if it’s a crisis situation or the day-in-day-out needs of the city. Folks get after it.

Old School vs. Not

Over my quarter-century career, I have figured a few things out about leadership. Admittedly, I am personally old school. Growing up with small-town values in rural Texas, I am loyal by nature, and in my day-to-day responsibilities, I take people at their word until proven otherwise.

Conversely, I’m not old school when it comes to managing staff. My career took me around the world and back to rural Texas over a span of 20 years. The exposure to different people, personalities, cultures and mindsets inside and outside of the country established the baseline for how I go about my business today. Those experiences manifest in my organizational responsibilities for the city.

Be Present

The secret to being a great leader is simple, but at the same time requires finesse. It is important for people managers to be the leader their organization needs them to be on an individual level. This requires that leaders be flexible, dynamic in their approach.

Obviously, people are different. How you interact with one employee may not be how you should interact with another to bring the best out of them. You might call this emotional intelligence. I call it being present on an individual level.

There are plenty of personality assessments out there that can help leaders gauge individual personalities. I am an advocate for these, although I am quick to say reading people can be an intuitive trait of a great leader.

Be Attentive

This requires listening and engagement. You must know your staff, what makes them get out of bed in the morning. Care about their professional and personal well-being. Even if it means guiding them to career growth and opportunities elsewhere.

For example, awhile back I was speaking with a peer. They were surprised to learn I was part of the military, even though I had been working alongside them for a couple of years at that point. Very likely I had not mentioned my military experience directly prior to that conversation.

Conversely, I remembered their spouse’s name, what they did for a living, and that the spouse takes their dog to get a muffin from a local gas station every weekend. I recited where their daughter went to school, that she’s on the volleyball team, and that every Sunday they enjoy going out and trying new burger places in the area.

Every knowledge point was ascertained through casual conversation. If people take the time to share their lives with you, take the time to listen.

Be Their Champion

Everyone knows the old leadership cliché: If something good happens it was because of your team, and if something went sideways it was because of the manager. That saying has been around for so long because it’s seeded in truth.

Great leaders sing the praises of their staff, and they also take it on the chin when need be. That’s Management 101 as far as I’m concerned, and I take no issue with it. Take the good with the bad, as they say.

I never mind taking the time to ensure staff is recognized for the great things they do. It stems from me working for the same boss for 10 years. He was the guy that first brought me into leadership, albeit slowly and without monetary gain. What I did not earn immediately in salary paid off handsomely in experience over the years.

Be Appreciative

I appreciated and respected him as a great leader. Over the years I also told myself that if I were ever running the proverbial show somewhere down the line, I’d take the good I learned from him but also do things a little differently. My long-time boss was fantastic running the day-to-day technology operations of our work center. We got things done for sure.

He wasn’t so great at recognizing folks for the good things they were doing. As his employee, I wanted to know I was doing a good job. That didn’t mean I needed to win an award or get a promotion. A “Hey man, thank you for busting your tail today,” was all I needed.

I have never forgotten how I felt back then and have made it a point to go out of my way to ensure my staff is recognized formally and informally whenever possible today.

Great Leaders

I’ve researched if great leaders derive from nature or nurture. My conclusion was that high-quality leaders derive from both. I was inspired by what I learned, because it meant that we didn’t need to wait for the few and far individuals that possess these special attributes to come around. Great leaders can be made!

Be attentive. Be the flexible, dynamic, emotionally aware leader your staff needs you to be on an individual level. Listen to them, learn from them. Care about the people they are, their families, and what makes them tick. Help them achieve their goals. Thank them for the good they do, and if the situation calls for it, protect them from a negative situation if need be.

Great leadership isn’t rocket science. Be a good person, do the right thing, and lead by example. If you are capable of these simple things, you can be the great leader your organization needs. Your team and organization will flourish as a result.

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Shane “El Jefe” McDaniel is the first Director of Information Technology for the city of Seguin, Texas, with more than 24 years of experience across multiple IT disciplines. He began his technology career in 1996 through an enlistment in the Air Force supporting military intelligence, subsequently transitioning to NSA, NRO, private industry and municipal government technology operations. Shane is the proprietor and champion of Country IT, running the countryexec.com website promoting personal and professional development for future leaders. You can find him on LinkedInTwitter and Facebook.

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Shirley A. Jones

Hi Shane, I am always drawn to articles and books on leadership and I really enjoyed yours here. I particularly enjoyed your point about punching above your weight class to get tasks done. Great imagery to the statement!