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Traits of Great Leaders

It’s a wonder there aren’t more great leaders than there are. The gap sure isn’t for lack of leadership training opportunities, including professional coaches and ever expanding materials on the topic.

They’re in abundance and more available than ever to us thanks to technology. Yet, leadership gaps — in our families, communities and the world-at large — are a common lament. Organizations in the public as well as private sectors have a tough time picking the right people for the job.

A 2018 Gallup poll found companies almost always (82 percent of the time) choose the wrong managers to lead. And how many worthy causes, whether in education, health or community development rise and fall on the crucible of its leadership? Nowadays, we’re hearing a lot more about the softer, less tangible and visible characteristics essential to effective leadership. In addition to traditional traits, it seems great leaders have a certain “Je ne sais quoi,” an elusive quality that’s palpable but hard to describe or measure.

It’s more than charisma. Some say intuition is the secret ingredient. Others identify it as Emotional Intelligence (EQ), which research at venerable institutions such as Harvard Business School insist is a greater determinant of success — not only in leadership but life — than intellectual capacity (IQ). Free pop quizzes like this one to help us assess our EQ’s are even available online. As we try to wrap our arms around the magic formula, one thing is clear: Not all great leaders may be created equal, but all great leaders do share common characteristics.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when

his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

- Lao Tzu

Wherever you are in your leadership walk, you won’t go wrong developing the following qualities if you want to become a more effective force.

Communication. Communication is arguably the single most valuable skill for leaders. It’s important to be able to effectively communicate your vision, objective and other crucial information to other people across your relationships and settings. Expectations can’t be met if they’re not communicated clearly. Listening to understand where others are coming from is an often overlooked, but key factor in the communication process. Consider the following:

  • Resolving conflicts and misunderstandings requires communication.

  • Effective training and instruction requires communication.

  • Constructive feedback is another valuable facet of any group endeavor. Can you provide constructive criticism in a way that enhances future results?

  • [endif]Effective communication ensures that everyone is “on the same page” and directing their collective energy toward the same outcome. The total effect becomes greater than the sum of the parts, also known as “synergy”

Honesty. All relationships require a foundation of trust to ensure success. Leaders are clear on their values and are willing to communicate them. See how quickly we’re back to communication! Honesty is willingness to communicate what you’re thinking or feeling, even when it is uncomfortable or unpopular. Honesty may be seen as a willingness to listen and discuss issues before the data is completely thought through, when available alternatives are not fully crystallized, and when decisions are not yet final. It may also be seen as keeping your word, following through on promises, and delivering on time.

Delegate. If you could do everything yourself, it wouldn’t be necessary to lead anyone. However, big outcomes require many hands on deck. You can’t do it alone.

  • Delegating appropriately also requires confidence that others can do their part. There isn’t enough time in the day to micromanage everyone.

  • Too much meddling leads to poor performance and resentment, too. It signals lack of trust and undermines confidence in others.

  • Understanding the capabilities of everyone on your team helps you to assign tasks to each member that are appropriate to their skills.

  • Again, this takes us back to communication skills; the ability to listen and recognize the strengths in others as well as opportunities for growth and improvement.

Adept at choosing team members. Sometimes you’re assigned a team. However, there are times you’re able to choose your team members. Leaders are able to determine which skills are required to complete a project successfully. It’s just as important to choose team members that will work well together. An effective leader is focused on getting work done, rather than playing referee. A skilled leader will also choose team members with skills that supplement his or her own. Being a leader doesn’t require the ability complete every possible task. Remember, Steve Jobs of Apple wasn’t capable of performing all the necessary engineering activities. However, he did a wonderful job of finding people with those skills.

Conviction. Big projects inevitably have many bumps, twists, and turns along the road to completion. Only the committed are able to find the finish line consistently. Leaders are committed in every way. They’re committed to getting the job done, whatever it takes. Leaders don’t expect to receive more commitment than they’re willing to give.

Confidence. Confidence is demonstrated and inspired. If a leader is unable to show confidence regarding the mission at hand, his or her followers will lack confidence, too. It’s vital to set a good example and remain confident that everything will work out.

Flexibility. It’s not possible to predict every hiccup that will occur over the course of a project. Leaders are able to find creative solutions. Resources are often limited. An effective leader can creatively utilize all the resources available to him or her. The ability to think outside the box is valuable.

Intuition. Successful leaders also possess intuition. Every situation is different, and past solutions don’t always apply. A great leader can rely on experience and intuition to find the best solution. Remember, everyone has intuition. If you don’t think yours is very strong, it is something that can be developed.

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