The Anatomy of a Fierce Leader: 10 Traits You Need To Practice | Fierce

A team leader stands in front of her five employees demonstrating characteristics of a Fierce leader

Everything rises or falls on leadership.

With all the challenges we face in society and corporate America, what characteristics embody the leader in the face of obstacles to transform their organization into a powerhouse? Leadership can be a very ambiguous concept. We hear characteristics of leadership as persuasion, influence, vision, or taking action. Classes and prestigious universities touting leadership MBA’s, attempt to teach the core elements that make a successful visionary. Rarely do we see specific directed actions a leader can take, plus a plan to develop those characteristics in themselves to make a difference in their organization.

Fierce researchers analyzed successful leaders and what they do to create positive culture as well as productive growth. After 20 years of research and experience among organizations of all industries and sizes, we have narrowed those elements into 10 characteristics that embody the Fierce leader.

This is the anatomy of a Fierce leader and what characteristics they portray. Each program within Fierce is designed to develop leaders into this ideal persona. As you look through this list evaluate your own leadership style and your relationship with your organization. 

Let’s begin.

1. Practices Inclusiveness and Leverages Diversity

DEI is on everyone’s mind today. As a leader how do you implement DEI to strengthen your team and not merely check a box of obligation? Practicing inclusiveness and leveraging diversity is really about including others when looking for solutions for the most important issues for your business.

Ask yourself: “What do you have on your plate today that would benefit from other perspectives?”

As leaders, we have to recognize that we are moving through the world within our own context. If we stay boxed in, we lose the power of other perspectives. Inclusiveness and diversity are about including everyone in your team and their insights into moving the organization forward. There is power in diverse perspectives because they often help us see issues and solutions in a new light for greater results and innovation.

2. Leads Change with Transparency

A report written by Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken at McKinsey & Company suggests that 80% of what leaders care about when trying to enlist support for change does not matter to 80% of the workforce.

Susan Scott spoke at a Tedx Overlake’ event. In her talk, titled: “The Case for Radical Transparency,” she addresses the common misconception that people can’t handle the truth. “My experience of most people,” she says, “is quite opposite of ‘we can’t handle the truth.’ There is something within us that responds to those who level with us, [leaders] who don’t suggest our compromises for us.”

Prior to their work with Fierce, Wolverhampton Homes was an organization struggling with trust and transparency issues in their culture. After leaders developed a Fierce mindset, staff engagement increased, and managers grew more confident in themselves and others. They also progressed from a 0-Star housing service with performance issues to an award-winning ALMO with the highest-possible ranking: 3 Stars.

Creating transparency, while difficult, increases engagement and leads to better outcomes.

3. Resilient & Solution Focused

Continued research on workplace challenges places resilience as one of the number one indicators of success, yet company leaders and employees struggle with issues around resilience. These problems manifest through low morale, employee retention, internal fighting, and burnout.

A resilient leader is one who is self-aware of their own stressors and begins to take steps to manage and mitigate those areas in their life. By modeling resilient behavior, the leader is able to transmit and teach those skills to those under their influence. Helping others identify stressors and confront the obstacles that keep them from performing at a high level is the epitome of a resilient leader. Rather than avoiding or dwelling on problems, the leader focuses on solutions to unleash the power of the team and empower them to mitigate stress.

4. Creates Safe Environments for Risk Taking & Vulnerability

Dan Pearce once said, “Share your weaknesses. Share your hard moments. Share your real side.  It’ll either scare away every fake person in your life or it will inspire them to finally let go of that mirage called “perfection,” which will open the doors to the most important relationships you’ll ever be a part of.”

Many employees find it difficult to take risks and voice ideas. A culture of criticism and insecurity runs rampant and many don’t feel heard. Others are afraid of ridicule or merely being invisible to leadership. 

Creating a culture of idea sharing and encouraging diverse thinking inside an organization begins with leadership being vulnerable themselves. Opening the door to your own struggles and difficulties allows a safe space for others to contribute. It’s okay to be critical of ideas but not personalities. We all have bad ideas, but only from a plethora of bad ideas can good emerge. If people stay silent, innovation can’t occur.

5. Models Compassionate Accountability

Accountability is necessary for every person to meet the goals we set inside of our organizations. Keeping everyone accountable without becoming a tyrant or a doormat is the challenge.

The Fierce definition of accountability is a desire to take responsibility for results. It’s a bias towards solution and action.

Only when every one of us takes responsibility for our achievements do we begin to realize a culture of accountability at work. And it all starts with you.

It is the leader’s responsibility to embrace the mindset: Given my current reality, what do I need to do to create the results, the career, and the life I want?

Recently, I read a leadership story of a manager struggling to be open and empathetic to employee concerns. When excuses were made about why contributors couldn’t perform, he sympathized with their plight. Unfortunately, he was well-liked but made no progress on the organization’s goal. Eventually, he was forced to have hard conversations, listening to performance complaints, but stressing responsibility. In the midst of challenges, we all still have a job to do. He learned to help his team acknowledge obstacles and in spite of difficulties commit to the task and make progress. 

6. Collaborative Decision Maker

No matter how capable we are, none of us have all the information to make accurate and impactful decisions inside our organization. We all need the voices of others and ideas outside of our own framework to grow.

The collaborative decision maker builds an environment where they listen and gain consensus from their employees. Instilling responsibility in your team and creating a sense of ownership allows for each person to contribute to the decision-making process. 

At Fierce, we use the beach ball conversation to help illustrate collaboration in decision-making. When you visualize a beach ball you notice it is made up of various colored sections. Each section on its own is ineffective and must be linked with the others in order to form a complete functional ball. Each team member functions as a slice of the beach ball and must contribute their perspective on issues in order to gain a complete understanding.  Going through this exercise demonstrates the need and value of collaboration in an organization. 

7. Exhibits Integrity and Trustworthiness

Dr. Brad Shuck, an engagement researcher, found that 75% of employees who work for leaders who are compassionate and live with integrity say they are unlikely to leave their current organization in the next five years.

Leading with integrity means the leader will keep their promises, clarify action needed, demonstrates responsiveness, confronts problems, and doesn’t hide from challenges or mistakes.

They acknowledge the accomplishment of others and don’t take credit for others’ work. Ultimately, leading with integrity develops trustworthiness and is about the leader’s ability to follow through on promises made.

8. Develops High-Performance Teams

Daniel Pink, the author of Drive, pin-pointed three elements necessary for generating the deepest levels of motivation within ourselves: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In his words, “Control leads to compliance — autonomy leads to engagement.”

Modeling and developing open conversation within your teams is the first step toward high-performance employees. Teams that are able to give feedback all the time work in unison to a common goal. Giving skills for team members to work through conflict and enrich their relationship, bonds a group together for greater productivity.

In leading their teams, the Fierce leader must also begin developing latent abilities in others to help them advance their skill sets and career. One way a leader can do this is through delegation. Unfortunately, delegation often serves as a way to avoid work. Delegation should ultimately aid in the development of employees and give them a sense of autonomy. This will lead to motivation within the organization, however open communication and empowerment are necessary.

9. Demonstrates High Emotional Intelligence

“What really matters for success, character, happiness, and life long achievements is a definite set of emotional skills – your EQ — not just purely cognitive abilities that are measured by conventional IQ tests.”  – Daniel Goleman 

“The emotionally intelligent person is skilled in four areas: identifying emotions, using emotions, understanding emotions, and regulating emotions.” – John Mayer and Peter Salovey

Developing emotional intelligence comes from the ability to have deep conversations with team members. Most leaders unfortunately lack the skills necessary to have tough conversations. Transparency and confrontation make most people uncomfortable.

However, developing empathy and emotional openness within productive conversation leads to effective leadership.

10. Passionate About Personal And Team Growth

When employees know you care about their growth, they respond. It builds trust, commitment, and a host of other benefits that impact the bottom line. Finding ways to develop yourself by being aware of your strengths and weaknesses helps you to continue to grow as a leader. As you model growth behaviors in the presence of your team they begin to value personal growth as well.

Knowing your team and looking for ways to develop individuals as well as team cohesion is a necessary priority for a fierce leader.

As you read through the characteristics of a Fierce leader, you may have noticed a common theme.  Communication and open conversations are the primary skills that empower each of the 10 elements. How are you developing your conversation skills to become a better leader? After 20 years of leadership development, Fierce has built a tool kit that can put you on a journey to becoming a Fierce leader who can move their organization through the challenges of the future

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