Leadership is defined in different ways but it can be summarized in John C. Maxwell’s definition: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” We can then conclude a great leader can mean the difference between failure and success in whatever field it may be, whether in business or in arts and culture.
This leads us to an all-important question: What qualities make for a great leader? Here, we will take a look at the must-have qualities every great leader, from Abraham Lincoln to Bill Gates, possess, often in abundance.
1. Integrity and Honesty
Dwight D. Eisenhower considered unquestionable integrity as the supreme quality of leaders and we wholeheartedly agree! When people believe that their leader possesses integrity and honesty, they consider him as trustworthy – and we know that trustworthiness and trust are the foundation of great relationships. Indeed, people who trust their leaders will follow them to the ends of the earth, so to speak.
Leaders who are seen as honest and trustworthy also apply the principles of transparency in real life. Transparency refers to the willingness and practice of openly sharing information with others and, in so doing, providing them with a sense of empowerment and belongingness. Furthermore, your followers will also believe in your vision and support you in its achievement, even go above and beyond the call of duty.
2. Purpose and Vision
Leaders are expected to set SMART goals – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound – for the team or company, as well as be purposeful in their achievement. The combination of vision and purpose is a must because the leader steers the course from beginning till the end, a job that demands enthusiasm, confidence, and commitment from day one.
The ability to create a distinctive vision followed by articulating it, owning it and driving it toward completion is one that only the best leaders can do. But keep in mind that the vision should also be one that your followers can actually envision themselves as well as support in its completion – otherwise, you may only be a leader in name, not of a team.
A word about being a visionary leader: You have to effectively manage change while also ensuring stability and growth in the right direction.
3. Accountability and Responsibility
To paraphrase Arnold H. Glasgow about accountability for one’s actions as a good leader: You have to assume more than your fair share of the blame and take less than your fair share of the credit. In other words, you have to assume command responsibility when things go south and give your team members the credit when things go well.
But it’s also a two-way street. You have to ensure that your team members are made accountable for their own decisions and actions in regards to their jobs. You’re also creating a strong sense of responsibility among them and, thus, make them truly work as a team and achieve their own goals.
As a leader, you also have the responsibility of using power and authority in a way that won’t overwhelm or overpower your team members. Just as you hold them accountable, you’re also holding yourself accountable for your proper use of power and authority at all times.
4. Confidence in Yourself and in Others
You have to be confident about your skills, knowledge, and abilities as a leader, a strong sense of confidence that will be felt by your team members in your words and deeds. Your confidence also builds trust among them since they believe that, indeed, you can make the impossible possible. Just beware of being overconfident as it can easily be translated as arrogance and it isn’t a quality that builds meaningful relationships on the personal and professional levels.
Just as you are confident in yourself, then so must you have confidence in your team members and their skills, knowledge, and abilities! Keep in mind that while you’re the leader, you don’t possess everything necessary to achieve your organizational goals – that’s where your team members come in.
Also, you should have the good sense to balance your confidence with humility. Yes, you will feel proud of yourself because of your leadership status but being humble is crucial in maintaining it. Think of it as not being a victim to a fall from grace – a big one, at that.
5. Inspire Others
A great leader has the ability – and opportunity, for that matter – to become an inspiration to others and to inspire them, preferably toward the achievement of common goals. In this regard, you have to set a good example of a good person, a good team player, and a good leader, not to mention that you have to handle pressure well because they will look up to you in more ways than one.
This is where a positive approach toward challenges and opportunities come in. While you have to be realistic about people and situations, you should also see the silver lining in them because it makes the difference between seeing solutions and being stuck in issues. You must then stay calm under pressure and take decisive action so your team members are inspired to follow your path.
6. Passion and Commitment
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Yes, it’s a cliché but there’s truth in clichés and this one isn’t different! When you’re a leader, you have to be the most passionate and the most committed to your organizational goals in your team. You may have to work harder, work longer and work smarter than everybody else but that’s expected.
When your team members see that you’re rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty, they will be inspired to do the same, too. Your enthusiasm will be infectious, too, which means new energy will be experienced by your team and you can expect better performance from them.
Your passion for your organizational goals is fueled by your resilience, too. You just keep on pushing even when everything seems lost because you focus on the solutions, not the issues.
7. Communication Skills
The ability to communicate well is among the cornerstones of great leadership – just look at Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Warren Buffett, all great leaders who can write and speak well. For starters, you have to communicate your vision, mission, and goals to your team, a must if you want to get everybody on the right path. Keep in mind that words should be chosen well to inspire others and if you don’t have a way with words, then you may be less of a great leader than you should have been.
But just as you should know how to talk, you must also know how to listen. Again, you don’t have a monopoly on knowledge so it’s also advisable to listen.
You should also be able to talk on several levels: one-on-one with others, from your end to an entire unit, and as a representative of your team. You should also know the subtleties of each form of communication – phone calls, emails, and social media as well as old-fashioned letters, among others.
8. Decisive Decision-Making Capabilities
Leaders have to make decisions, most of which will have a huge impact on the team and organization. These can include the day-to-day decisions related to operations, the decisions affecting the team’s performance, and the decisions that affect the organization as a whole, especially for leaders involved in policymaking (e.g., the board of directors). Indeed, the decision-making aspect of leadership is a boon and a bane even for the best leaders – a single false decision can mean the sinking of the ship while a series of good decisions means that it will stay afloat, to use a naval analogy.
But it isn’t just about the decision-making aspect either. Good leaders know when to act and how to do it, a strategic approach to issues that differentiates the good from the bad.
You must be prepared to adjust your thinking including your strategies in order to deal with unexpected challenges, capture emerging opportunities and staying on top of the game. You can cultivate it by being genuinely interested in your organization and its environment, being flexible in your attitude, and maintaining your focus on your brand. You should also be able to manage complex systems and situations, even when you’re dealing with other matters – the ability to prioritize yet also maintain your focus on the prize.
9. Creativity and Innovation
Steve Jobs said it best, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” – and indeed he’s known as among the greatest visionaries of our time. You have to think out of the box, look for innovations, and foster creativity among your team because, again, you’re not the sole owner of knowledge and skills.
10. Delegation and Empowerment
Just as you don’t possess all the knowledge, you also can’t do everything, much less be everybody, not even when you fancy yourself as a one-man army. You have to focus on your key roles and responsibilities that, in turn, means delegating other decisions and actions to your team members.
But before you can delegate, you have to empower your team members! You can’t afford to micromanage everybody because otherwise, you won’t be able to focus on your key responsibilities, not to mention that doing so means you’re an enabler of their incompetence.
Lastly, you should be emotionally intelligent. You can’t be intelligent in, say, finance and business yet be less so in other areas of leadership because then you’re less effective as a leader. You must be able to manage your emotions, develop better social awareness and deal with conflicts, among others, which are crucial in establishing respect among your team members.
Also, check out – What Are The Worst Leadership Mistakes You Can Make?