The 5 Cs: Qualities That Define Great Leadership

As a leader, you hold the key to engagement.

And according to the 2023 Gallup Employee Engagement report, engagement desperately needs a rebound: 32% of full- and part-time employees working for organizations feel engaged, while 18% feel actively disengaged, continuing a downward trend. We know that lack of engagement can have disastrous impact on the success of organizations.

To inspire and build engagement, leaders need to first look within, asking:

  • How clear and communicative am I?
  • What is my leadership style?
  • Do I practice what I preach?
  • Do I keep the promises I make?

First and foremost, a good leader establishes a foundation of credibility and trust. When people trust you, you can inspire their engagement and loyalty in the company; this is critical when the organization faces challenges and you need to rally your people to success. Effective leaders can build strong teams on these five principles, the five Cs of great leadership:

1. Collaborate

It may be satisfying to be able to complete a project on your own. However, those who try to juggle a considerable amount of work by themselves often result in failure. Confident leaders understand the importance of working with a team to complete tasks both large and small. To encourage collaboration among your team, you should be able to delegate strategically. Having work completed by other members of your team doesn’t mean getting items off your own plate; delegation means cultivating trust with others. Collaboration built with trust can vastly improve the quality of the product your team is creating.

2. Communicate

Strong leaders motivate and instruct with confidence. You must sharpen your communication skills to effectively deliver messages across to teams. When speaking with your employees or delegating tasks, be sure to give them clear direction. Be willing to answer questions that may arise if your people are having trouble comprehending instructions or connection results. Clarify how tasks relate to results and connect to your organization’s purpose. Make time to meet and check on progress to ensure success and learning.

3. (Be) Candid

Being honest sounds fundamental to being a great leader, yet many hold back what they’d really like to say to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Instead of helping the problem, avoidance can hurt it. Authentic feedback — giving and receiving it — is essential to leadership. When important statements go unsaid, no one on the team can learn from their mistakes.

You must also be open to hearing about your own mistakes and formalizing ways for your people to give it to you. This is true accountability.

Discussing mistakes with others is a chance to create psychological safety: approaching the issue in a constructive way. Approach feedback (both giving and taking it in) as an opportunity for self-improvement and growth: coaching rather than correcting. (Keep reading: there’s more.)

4. Connect

Connection is rooted in feedback exchanges. Provide regular check-ins with employees to measure their success. A quarterly one-on-one isn’t enough to keep your team on track. Meet individually with your people to consistently to reinforce their hard work, provide feedback on areas in which they can improve, and explain both short- and long-term goals for team metrics.

When people can feel safe with you expressing their opinions, they feel that their voices are important and their ideas are valued. This is the key to engagement. Make sure to listen to the feedback you receive and follow through with their requests and suggestions. A key component of connection is gratitude: offer gratitude to your people when you truly feel it. This often comes about when the feedback process is formalized and integrated in organizational culture, we find.

5. Care

Exceptional leaders are empathetic, caring for their people, not just the work they do. People want to feel valued. They want meaningful connection at work. Make sure you ask them about their life. What do they enjoy? How is their family doing? Did they find time to relax on their recent vacation? Work isn’t everything, and your people will develop loyalty only when you care about them as people, not as productivity generators.

Credit your culture

Great leaders give credit to others. Look to the people who work with you. When they respect their leader and feel that their voice is valuable to the organization, they are likely to feel engaged in their work. You are only as good as your people. Forge strong relationships. Use the five Cs to actively engage your people and build fulfillment.

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