When it comes to learning about the qualities of great leaders, there are endless lists, articles, books, research studies, and competency models to reference. So many, in fact, that it has to be overwhelming to anyone aspiring to learn about leadership and how to become a better leader.
To complicate things even further, leadership has always been a difficult term to even define, and the terms leadership and management are often used interchangeably.
I addressed the similarities and differences between leaders and managers and defined leadership and leader in the following articles:
In this article, I’ve developed my own “ten best” list of leadership qualities. I’ve certainly drawn from a combination of much of that work that’s already been published – let’s face it, I’m a little late to the game here to be original.
While I can’t help but be influenced by previous published research and lists, I’ve really tried to develop the following list from my own personal experience. Not just my own experience as a leader and being led, but from having the privilege of coaching and training some outstanding leaders over the last 20 years or so.
My own list is purely opinion, not fact or based on scientific research, but I’d be willing to bet it’s pretty darn descriptive of the great leaders that you’ve encountered.
1. They bring out the best in others. Great leaders don’t just get extraordinary results as a result of their own contributions. They have the ability to elevate the performance of everyone around them. They believe that everyone has untapped potential to grow and improve, and give people the confidence to achieve their own goals.
See “10 Powerful Ways to Develop Your Employees.”
2. They inspire. Great leaders have bold visions and audacious goals, but they also have the ability to communicate in a way that inspires others to act. They appeal to people’s emotions, using image, stories, metaphors, and other ways that move people to action. They involve others in order to give people a sense of ownership and control.
3. Authenticity. Great leaders know who they are – their core values, their strengths and weaknesses, and their beliefs. They are transparent and let everyone know in a way that is seen as “real” and genuine.
4. Presence. Great leaders have a way of being “in the moment”, both in group setting (on stage) and in individual interactions. They pay attention, listen, ask great questions, and make everyone feel like there are being heard and valued. When they do speak up, they command attention – everyone pauses and pays attention.
5. Trustworthiness.Great leaders inspire trust. They say what they mean, mean what they say, and do what they promise to do. They are also trusting of others – not in a naïve way, but they will assume you can be trusted until you prove otherwise.
See “12 Ways for Leaders to Build a Solid Foundation of Trust with their Employees.”
6. Accountability. Great leaders are accountable – they admit their own mistakes and don’t point fingers, make excuses, and blame others. They also hold others accountable.
7. Results focused. Great leaders set bold visions, audacious goals, have a handful of critical metrics, and never take their eye off the ball. They are relentless in achieving goals, celebrate success, and help everyone feel like winners.
8. Positive and confident. Great leaders have the ability to balance optimism, passion and confidence, without ignoring reality, and letting their confidence turn into hubris. They can also energize others – instead of draining the energy of others around them. They create penguins instead of polar bears.
9. They drive change. While this somewhat overlaps with results focused and inspiring, they also understand the dynamics of organizational and individual change. They also can effectively manage their own reactions to change.
10. They empower. They are comfortable delegating, they push decisions down to the lowest level, and understand the motivational power of giving people control. They don’t hoard or abuse their power – they give it away freely.
There are many other qualities of great leaders, but these ten stand out to me.