Leadership means different things to different people. There are different leadership styles, approaches, and methods as well as differences among cultures and countries. When we get right down to the heart of the matter, leadership is a motivating way of interacting with people that inspires responsibility and commitment.
We have been blessed with many leadership lessons throughout the ages from biblical figures to U.S. presidents to military icons, and there are common characteristics that all great leaders possess.
Successful leaders genuinely care about others and are passionately motivated to make a positive difference in people's lives. They understand it is not about their own personal advancement and they put others first. They have the ability and desire to remove themselves from the equation and focus on people, purpose, and cause. Did Martin Luther King Jr. have a dream for himself? No. He stood for justice, peace, and righteousness for all.
Strong leaders are visionary. They have the ability to passionately articulate their visions in a way that makes others want to get involved. Passion is contagious.
What other characteristics do strong leaders share? Take a moment to reflect on someone you know who is a successful leader. What makes that person successful? Do you see the following traits?
1. Discipline. Strong leaders have the discipline to focus on the vision and direct the actions of their teams toward a specific goal. Action is the mark of a leader. A strong leader is always doing something in pursuit of the vision and inspiring others to do the same.
2. Integrity. Leaders who possess integrity do not veer from their inner values and therefore can be trusted to act consistently regardless of the situation. Building trust is a key trait of successful leaders.
3. Dedication. Successful leaders inspire dedication by walking the talk and leading by example. They do whatever it takes to complete the next step toward the vision and they set expectations for others to do the same. Setting an excellent example demonstrates the kind of behavior that creates dedicated teams who achieve great things.
4. Fairness. There are two aspects of this trait; giving credit where credit is due and dealing with people in a consistent manner. Successful leaders purposefully spread recognition as widely as possible to ensure everyone involved receives credit. A good leader also checks all the facts before reaching a decision to avoid leaping to conclusions based on incomplete evidence. When people feel they are treated fairly, they reward a leader with loyalty and dedication.
5. Approachability. Successful leaders listen to and encourage new ideas. They suspend judgment and accept new ways of doing things to build mutual respect and trust, and capture new ideas that can advance a vision.
6. Creativity. The most important question a leader can ask is, "What if …?" and then be open to a plethora of ideas that may ensue. Creativity is not just an innate ability that few people possess. Creativity is the ability to open the minds of others and let the possibilities flow to find new and innovative ways to reach goals.
7. Sense of Humor. This is vital to relieve tension, boredom, and defuse hostility. Effective leaders know how to use humor to energize their people. Humor is a form of power that provides some control over the work environment and fosters good camaraderie.
8. Continuous Improvement. Successful leaders are always looking for new ways to learn, grow themselves and their people, and find new ways of doing things more efficiently. They are life-long learners who know their primary role is to teach.
Woodrow Wilson said it best when he said, "You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself (and others) if you forget the errand."
Continuous learning and sharing enables effective leadership. People don't have to agree with you, but they do need to feel you're willing to share what you've learned to support their development and participation in a shared vision and journey to success.
General Electric's CEO Jeff Immelt has a checklist of 'Things Leaders Do' that he uses to teach up-and-coming leaders at GE. Topping that list is the ability to "like" people. Jeff states, "Today, it's employment at will. Nobody's here who doesn't want to be here. So, it's critical to understand people, to always be fair, and to want the best in them. And when it doesn't work, they need to know it's not personal."
The hallmark of leadership is genuinely caring about others. Helping people grow, reach established goals, and acquire a sense of personal accomplishment and satisfaction are the keys to successful leadership that builds on a foundation of continuous learning and sharing. Effective corporate leadership is achieved through developing the ability to understand what drives individuals to take specific actions, and the skills to create opportunities for them to meet personal and organizational needs at the same time.
The following resources are chock-full of research-based information for those who want to lean more.
- Bass & Stogdill's Handbook of Leadership by Bernard M. Bass. There are hardbound and Kindle versions of this book for less than $100.
- The Art and Science of Leadership
Escoe Bliss Professional Resources will provide your organization with the expert consultation it needs to build successful leadership. Please contact us if we can partner with you on your leadership and training needs.
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