The Association for the Capital Projects Engineering & Construction Community.

What Makes a Leader?

July 23, 2012

By Stephen Buras, ECC Future Leader

What makes a leader? In my experience, I’ve had the pleasure of working under a few individuals who were not just talented engineers, but also excellent mentors and exemplary leaders. The greatest leaders are those who create an environment where a person can maximize his or her potential. So, how do we improve our leadership? What can be extracted from these examples of fine leadership? Here are three traits that help create their success:

  1. Leaders are decision makers.
  2. Leaders provide a positive attitude for the team.
  3. Leaders get it done without being told.

Let me explain each in a little more detail.

Leaders are decision makers. The biggest barrier to success is indecision. A good leader must be willing to render a decision on how to proceed. The leader gathers data, quickly analyzes the facts and makes a decision. A recovery plan should always be ready for implementation should the initial plan fail. It is critical that the team not be paralyzed by indecision.

Leaders provide a positive attitude for the team. No team can withstand the distractions that are caused when morale is low and gossip runs rampant. A good leader sets the tone so that the team stays focused on objectives at hand. The leader must lead by example and make sure that all team members are engaged and driving to success. If there is an underperformer on the team, the leader must deal with that person efficiently and proactively or risk creating an environment ensnared in unproductive discussions. If there are outside influences affecting the organization, then the good leader tackles that discussion immediately to quell fears and concerns that his team might have. It’s better to get the dialog started immediately and openly rather than let the team stew on the unknowns.

Leaders get it done without being told. Good leaders recognize when something needs to be done without waiting to be asked. For example, if there is a work process that is ineffective, then a leader will work to improve the process. A leader volunteers to make changes because he or she recognizes that change is needed. Sometimes this means taking on extra work, but it also may be accomplished by delegating to others. Delegated work must be presented with clear goals and the leader should resist micromanaging the process of achieving those goals. To encourage optimum performance, utilize the gifts of the individual members of the team and allow them opportunity to be innovative.

We will all have one or two key individuals in our careers that stand out above others as role models. Our goal is to be in that elite group. I’ve shared my observations of what makes a leader successful. There are no doubt numerous other characteristics that also contribute to great leadership. Think about your role models and what their keys to success have been. What characteristics of their leadership has most influenced you? Work toward emulating these behaviors and you will increase your leadership presence.