Qualities of Leadership – Part 6: Continuous Improvement and Physical, Mental and Spiritual Health

By Ray Miller

This is the sixth article in our six part series which discusses the Qualities of Leadership. It builds on what was covered previously so if you haven’t read the previous articles, be forewarned.

In this article we will discuss in greater detail the next two of the qualities of leadership: Continuous Improvement and Physical, Mental and Spiritual Health

A Leader is driven by Continuous Improvement

A leader is never satisfied. Leaders are driven by an internal desire to constantly improve the business, employees, relationships with customers, etc. Without that desire a group stagnates. Work becomes ho hum and “good enough” is standard practice.

Some companies market their Total Quality Management campaign to customers as leading edge, but ask employees and they’ll either agree politely or if cynicism gets the best of them, laugh openly. More often than not the company seems to fight fire after fire and is lucky just to maintain the status quo.

Leaders won’t settle for just getting by. They constantly challenge every department and every person to find ways to improve products and service. They look for ways to make improvements, even small ones, as long they’re constantly on the look out for them. They ask their manager for aggressive, but realistic targets to better their performance. If leaders stagnate, their business will.

Just as a leader constantly pushes him/herself to improve his skills, knowledge, and performance a leader expects the same of others. If someone is truly a leader they will never settle for good enough. For employees this means constantly asking yourself: “Is there a way to improve my performance or the performance of my team?”

Here are a few examples of Leadership Behaviors which demonstrate being driven by Constant Improvement

  1. A leader constantly raises expectations for product and service quality rather than settling for mediocrity or “acceptable” performance.
  2. A leader praises co-workers for suggestions and ideas that improve quality.
  3. A leader abides by policies and procedures that exist for monitoring, measuring, and improving quality.
  4. A leader demonstrates constant improvement by way of data and results.

A Leader encourages Physical, Mental and Spiritual Health

Without a balance in your life you can’t be an effective leader at work. The two are inseparable. If you neglect your personal needs – family, physical health, mental health, and spiritual – you’ll lose your edge as a leader.

We firmly believe that someone must have a certain degree of physical fitness to be effective as a leader. Now, you don’t have to run marathons, bench press three hundred pounds and a have a cholesterol level of 10, but then you shouldn’t get winded walking to the water cooler either. Constant physical ailments wear on an individual’s ability to concentrate and focus. When fatigue sets in, decisions are jeopardized. Periodic absences will stall and stagnate important initiatives and undermine the confidence of staff.

Being physically fit also suggests a discipline characteristic of leaders. They devote time to all aspects of their well rounded life. They expect their followers to expend energy to constantly improve – how can they expect anything less of themselves?

Finally, a person who is physically fit is more confident and that confidence is perceived by others.

As for mental health, with the responsibility of leadership comes the stress of leadership. Those who can effectively deal with stress actually use it as a fuel to drive their accomplishments. Overwhelmed by stress, an employee or manager will make hasty decisions, cut corners, and otherwise send signals to others that he/she cannot handle the pressure. You must take deliberate actions to reduce stress and use it constructively. That begins with recognizing the physical symptoms of stress.

Spiritual health? This may strike a nerve with some because it can be misinterpreted as religious commitment. Here’s why we think it’s important. Belief in a higher power (whatever your devotion) propels an individual towards the ideal self. Spiritual beliefs provide a doctrine that forces us to examine our own actions and motivations against a core of morality.

That pursuit of the ideal self in spirituality spills over into the leader’s work life. They pursue the ideal organization. Just as they have a core set of values that drives their spirituality they have core values that drive their efforts at work. Recognizing that you are not perfect and that you must constantly work to better all facets of your life is a key characteristic of leadership. This discipline pervades every aspect of a leader’s life, family/personal, community, and work.

Here are a few examples of Leadership Behaviors which reinforce Physical, Mental and Spiritual Health

  1. A leader devotes time and attention to proper exercise and diet to maintain good physical health.
  2. A leader manages stress effectively so it does not interfere with the quality of his/her work.
  3. A leader maintains a productive, healthy balance between family, personal, and work obligations.
  4. A leader constantly critiques his/her own behavior, attitudes and decisions against a framework of ethical and moral standards.

Here’s an exercise to help you apply the concepts we’ve presented in this article series.

The best way to apply the principles of leadership we have described is to understand them in behavioral terms. Take some time to complete the exercise below:

Exercise: Who is a leader?

Think about your own work experiences. Does someone standout as having a significant impact on your motivation and performance? Did anyone energize you to feel especially committed to a cause or project? Recognizing the qualities of leadership in someone else is one of the best ways of improving your own. We’ve provided words and theory based on academics and real life experiences. Only you can apply them as real behaviors.

Write down, in specific behavioral terms, what that person did that distinguished them as a leader.

For instance, rather than “He treated me with respect” – probe deeper:

“He took the time to listen my ideas and provide feedback.”

“He always said thank you when I made an extra effort.”

To take the exercise a step further contrast this person with someone who you feel was especially ineffective as a leader. By contrasting the two you will begin to really highlight the qualities of leadership that you appreciate. More importantly, can you recall your emotions as you worked with these two individuals? How did they make you feel about your job?

For example:

Positive Leadership behavior: Always challenged our team to find new ways to improve our work

Negative Leadership behavior: Accepted work as usual

Positive Leadership behavior: Spoke courteously to all employees

Negative Leadership behavior: Was abrupt and impatient when speaking with employees

Positive Leadership behavior: Spoke passionately about new directions and possibilities for the company

Negative Leadership behavior: Showed little energy or enthusiasm for new ideas and challenges

Now assess your own qualities of leadership in behavioral terms.

Leadership comes from within. You get to choose what kind of leader you want to be. That choice is your first important leadership decision so make it count.

Ray Miller is Managing Partner of The Training Bank,  a Training and Consulting firm specializing in Customer Focus, Service Improvement, Leadership and fully customized training solutions. He is also co-author of Management Training by the Book and That’s Customer Focus.

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