Leadership is not an easy endeavor.
When you think you are doing well, things can easily go sideways, or even backward. Because leadership is ultimately about how we deal with other people, we shouldn’t be surprised that the process is complicated.
Yet when you think of the best leaders, they have so many of the same great qualities. There is a consistency in the traits, although the delivery and style might look much different. When I think of the best leaders I have worked with, here are some of the qualities/traits that stuck out to me.
1. Vision Based on Empathy
We hear about how great leaders have “vision” all of the time, yet is that vision based on what they want to do, or more specifically, on how they can help move forward the people that they serve? A vision for leadership is not that powerful if it doesn’t meet the needs of the people you serve.
Do not get the word “passionate” mixed up with “charismatic”; you can be one without the other. Some of the best leaders I have worked with were amazingly boisterous, while others were quiet and reserved. No matter what side of the spectrum they were on though, they were extremely passionate about not only what was possible, but more importantly, about the people they serve. If you are not excited about the possibilities that lay in front of you, why would the people you serve become passionate about the path you are heading?
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
3. Know When to Push and Support
This is a crucial trait of the best leaders. Not only do have the back of the people they serve, but they will give them a push so that they can continuously grow. They push to the edge but do their best to not push people over it. We always hear about how important is that people feel supported, but if you do not have a leader that pushes you to grow, you might begin to regress.
I have met way too many great people that left their organization not because they didn’t feel supported (obviously that happens as well), but because they feel they outgrew their leader. Finding the balance is tricky but it is a pursuit that we must continuously focus on to help individuals, and ultimately, your organization develop and grow.
4. Great Managers
If you ever hear someone talk about how “we don’t need managers, we need LEADERS!”, they are missing a crucial element of leadership overall. Think about it…Have you ever had the passionate leader who totally ignores your emails and requests because they are disorganized?
What about the great vision for education that doesn’t come to fruition because we can’t find the resources?
Stephen Covey simplifies leadership and management nicely; leadership is about people, management is about things. If I can’t get these “things” into the hands of my people, does it matter what the vision is?
There is a fine line between confidence, insecurity, and arrogance.
Insecurity ←—————————- Confidence ——————————> Arrogance
Although it is subjective between the “leader” and the “follower”, it is important that we not only ask for feedback but to be introspective.
At the end of the day, a confident leader will acknowledge when they are wrong because they know that only through admitting mistakes can you move forward.
The world constantly evolves, and a great leader evolves with it. To do this, you have to be willing to continuously learn and grow. Some of the stories that you hear of failing organizations were not because the people in the organization were bad, but because the leadership didn’t adapt (See Blockbuster).
7. Solution Oriented
A great leader turns problems into opportunities, weaknesses into strengths, and finds a way where there is seemingly nowhere to go.
You either seek opportunities or find problems. Even in seemingly unsolvable situations, great leaders grow from those mistakes.
How you look at the world is how you lead. If you look for opportunities, you will find them.
8. Works Side-By-Side With Those They Serve
You should never make a decision for the people you serve unless you are in the environments in which they work and learn. Far too often, weak leaders make decisions for people based on what they assume will work best for them based on theory, not practicality. Get into those environments, experience them, and do everything you can to help people be successful. You do not have to be able to do their job (they are the experts), but you do have to be able to help them be successful in their job.
9. Develops More Leaders
Although this seems cliche, it is also very true. If the direction of an organization is based on the leadership of “one”, the time it will take to move forward will be forever, if it happens at all. If you have a shared and co-created vision, the leadership of many though will move things in the right direction, quickly. Leadership is not a solo act, but a group effort.
10. Knows When To Follow
If you truly develop more leaders, that should mean that you are willing to follow. This is one of my favorite Steve Jobs quotes:
The only thing that I would change about the quote is, “it doesn’t make sense to develop smart people and then tell them what to do.” If you are truly developing leaders, know when to get in front, stand by their side, or follow from behind. Great leaders are able to do all three effectively.
If you can take all ten of these characteristics and put them into one word, it would obviously be “relationships”. Create them develop them, foster them, and people will go to heights beyond their wildest dreams.
A great leader’s legacy is not in what they do, but what the people they serve do.