In history students learn about the activities, good and bad, that individual historians label as a good leader and leadership. We study their personalities to extract the qualities required for leadership. Experts argue if leaders are made or born. I think it’s some of both, based on situations and the individual. You can teach someone to lead but they must have the desire and certain personality or character traits to be effective and a high quality leader. Others are never taught leadership but in a situation that calls for leadership they emerge as a natural leader.
Leaders are sometimes defined as revolutionaries. During times of conflict or change one individual usually stands out. That person has the ability to motivate individuals to fight for something that is difficult. Martin Luther King Jr. is an example of a leader involved in a social cause. Wars require a leader. The absence of a leader in situations like these would be chaos.
In business, the roles of leader and manager are somewhat intertwined.
“Leader” usually implies a broad view, the person at the top, the visionary. The buck stops here usually means the leader is the one ultimately responsible for the success or failure of a given mission. Leaders utilize managers to help them complete their tasks. The “managers” are often not the “leader” but rather the implementer and at the same time they are expected to lead.
The current world situation calls for strong leadership. Recent changes in technology, economics, communication and social issues created problems that individuals and companies are struggling to deal with. It seems as if there’s a whole new arena of leaders emerging. Bookstores offer numerous viewpoints by individuals promoting what they believe it takes to successfully lead a company. Some of these are excellent resources. Is there a magic formula? Can someone learn to lead by reading a book?
Many of the qualities of successful leaders from the past are still essential today.
Some things like integrity never change. Perhaps some individuals we looked up to as leaders forgot or disregarded qualities such as character. Society is fed up with immoral living, dishonesty and selfishness of today’s business leaders. Emerging leaders need to restore the “good name” formerly associated with leadership, as well as embrace the changes in our current global society.
Experts have different opinions on what makes a good leader. Most people would agree there are certain characteristics that all good leaders must possess.
The following qualities I believe are essential for effective leaders. They are not necessarily in order of importance.
Passion. All strong leaders have passion.
They are totally committed to and sold on their cause. The end goal or result is the over driving force in their life. They eat breath and sleep this; sometimes to excess. Driven to succeed they also have the ability to ignite excitement in others. Without passion they could not enlist followers. Sometimes this is confused with enthusiasm or charisma. Having passion can lead to those behaviors but they are not requirements. Mother Teresa was not known for her enthusiasm.
Vision. Leaders have vision.
They look beyond today and see the big picture. Not content with how things are now they see something better in the future. A good leader is realistic about current circumstances but they don’t feel trapped. Their desire to succeed or make things better drives them to find ways to make this happen.
Self Confidence. Leaders possess self confidence.
They’ve had past success, they know what they’re capable of and most of all they understand the importance of never giving up. If they fail they continue trying until they succeed. Philosophers believe that thinking you can do something is half the battle. If you don’t think you can do something you probably will not even try. A confident leader inspires their followers to believe in themselves. They do not have a problem delegating duties to others.
Integrity. A good leader is truthful and dependable.
Followers of leaders with integrity do not have to wonder if something their leader said is true – they know it is true. This is based on past behavior and reputation of the leader. Lies and deceitful behavior eventually surface. If this happens individuals are reluctant to follow someone they do not trust. Sometimes a leader doesn’t reveal all they know and they might even dress something up due to sensitive issues but integrity is buried deep in their essence. They don’t look for dishonest ways to do something or how to cheat the system. Jack Welch is a modern business leader known for his integrity.
Humble. Great leaders are humble.
They do not feel they are better than anyone else. They are willing to do everything they ask their followers to do. A leader recognizes the importance of teamwork and gives credit to others. It’s not their success but the team’s success. They don’t boast or brag and sometimes even have difficulty taking credit. Sometimes humility is incorrectly defined as weakness. Jesus, washing the feet of his disciples and other acts he did, is a great example of humility.
Knowledge. A leader must posses the knowledge required to complete their mission.
Leaders are usually avid readers, life long students, and view every situation as an opportunity to learn more. Knowledge and education are not the same. Sometimes individuals with advanced learning possess little knowledge. Knowledge is like advanced common sense. Much of it comes from life experience. A leader’s knowledge could be defined as wisdom. Wisdom is not only having knowledge but knowing how to use it in the most effective way. King Solomon, in the Bible, is sometimes referred to as the wisest man ever. His writings in the book of Proverbs are thought by some to be the best how to instruction manual ever written.
Think outside the box. Leaders know that things and life constantly change.
They know clinging to current methods and refusing to consider all possibilities prevents growth and eventually leads to stagnation. Individuals who think outside the box know their ideas are not always right therefore they seek input from others. Sometimes this leads to radical change. People resist change especially something drastic that affects them personally. Doing things like everyone else makes you “normal”. Breaking away from the status quo makes you “different”. Good leaders do not follow the crowd but rather search for the best way to complete their mission.
Accept Failure. Leaders know they do not always make the right decision but that most of the time they are right.
They admit their mistakes without making excuses. Mistakes for them are opportunities to learn. They don’t give-up or wallow in self pity. By admitting mistakes a leader reveals their humility. Though we want our leaders to be like super heroes, we also want them to be human.
Effective communicator. A leader can have all the above qualities but if they can not communicate with their followers it’s difficult for them to lead.
Communication isn’t just talking. Leaders are good listeners. They pay attention to the details, remember the important things and have the ability to say the right thing at the right time. Communication from a good leader is positive. They give criticism if needed but don’t destroy egos. Leaders know people react more favorably to praise. They praise more and criticize less. A leader does not reveal everything they know. They don’t gossip or engage in communication that’s harmful to someone else or to the mission. They limit their complaining to those who can do something about the problem. Conflict is not discouraged but rather controlled. A leader knows they will not be friends with everyone but they are friendly. The leader who practices the above principles will have the respect of their followers.
Courage. Leadership takes courage.
With courage, passion, vision, integrity and humbleness a great leader can climb mountains. Their businesses and the people that work with them excel and greatness is attained, not for the purpose of greatness but for the accomplishment of vision and mission. Their goal is clear and compelling and being such their teams work with them to achieve it. Great leadership remains unchanged decade to decade, century to century, and perhaps bad leadership remains unchanged as well. But it is with great leadership that we continue to thrive and build great companies, communities and ultimately the world. When leaders lead with quality, organizations thrive.
Donna Price is a strategist, working with entrepreneurs to increase profits using the 7 Profitability Accelerators. Create your system for success.