Which qualities should a good leader have? The title “leader” does not make a leader.
A leader is generally defined as:
1. A person or thing that leads;
2. A guiding, or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group.
During my 30-year career as a personal coach, trainer, speaker and consultant, I have had the rare privilege of working directly with leaders at all levels, and in a wide variety of industries and disciplines.
This experience has opened my eyes to both those leaders who, having led with courage and discipline, have added significant value to all of those around them. Sadly, I have also seen leaders who meet only the literal dictionary definition: a leader in title only.
I have watched those whose very presence inspires others to bring greatness to everything they do. Then there are those who occupy the leader’s chair and yet portray few, if any, of the attributes that lead to outstanding results.
In addition to my personal experience, I also have a passion for reading biographies, particularly those of people who understand what makes a good leader. All that I’ve read and lived first-hand has helped me to shape in my mind the archetype of what a good leader should be.
Now that you know my previous experience with leadership, I have found that there is definitely an overlap which suggests that 4 qualities are prerequisites for what makes a good leader.
The most important quality of a good leader is the ability to influence – not demand – exceptional performance of their immediate subordinates. At the same time, they train those folks to do the same, thus producing a ripple effect throughout the organization.
I have mentioned previously that the best definition of a great leader is the one who has the ability to cause those around them to willingly go along with their thoughts, ideas and suggestions.
The key word in that definition is “willingly.” A good leader has the capacity to convey their vision to others, and get them excited about it. The ability to engage people in what they do and why they do it, is mandatory to be a leader that others want to follow.
High up on the list of great traits is one known as likability. We tend to go along with people we like, to be supportive even when we disagree, and to be forgiving when they make mistakes. Likability is the by-product of leaders showing they genuinely care: great leaders do not talk about themselves, but rather inquire about others.
Great leaders are role models of respect for all to follow, treat all as equals and, when delivering necessary corrections and reprimands, focus only on behaviours involved and never on the people themselves.
Ranking alongside likability is trust. Trust is absolutely the foundation upon which all relationships are built. And trust, once lost, can rarely be regained at the same level.
It’s interesting to note that so many of the definitions of leadership focus far more on the likability, trustworthiness and interpersonal relationship abilities rather than on intelligence and competence.
In other words, a leader’s ability to cause those around them to willingly go along with their thoughts, ideas and suggestions is valued far more than their ability to be good at their jobs.
On the flip side, poor leaders can single-handedly devastate an organization. A poor leader can unwind years, if not decades, of great results and can, literally overnight, create a culture that leaves employees discouraged and, often, in search of employment elsewhere.
Good leaders know that they are not perfect, nor the owners of the truth. They are self-aware enough to understand their personalities, values, strengths and weaknesses, and embrace who they are to build an authentic and honest leadership style.
Self-awareness is linked with likability too. Self-aware leaders are humble and brave enough to look into themselves and seek feedback from others in the organization, especially their subordinates. This helps them to understand how their behaviour affects them, and allows them to lead them more effectively, gaining their favour and respect in the process.
Are Good Leaders Born or Made?
The debate as to whether good leaders are born, or whether they can be developed has raged for years. My own personal experience leads me to believe that while many have seemingly natural and inherent leadership skills, great leaders can be developed through a commitment to personal excellence, and an unwavering desire to constant self-improvement.
And science has given its backing to the idea that good leaders are made, suggesting that leadership skills are 30% genetic, and a whopping 70% are the result of life experiences.
I definitely believe that the 4 qualities I’ve listed are key to the formula to create a good leader: Together they create a chemical reaction to make a person capable of inspiring others to make the organization’s goals their own, work towards excellence, and be proud of what they do.
And remember, you don’t need the title to be a leader.
Till we read again.