9 Qualities of Great Leaders
The subject of leadership can never be exhausted and that is why there are always books coming out on it. My favorite definition of leadership is from Stephen Covey who said that “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.”
The responsibility of every leader is to keep affirming the worth and potential of every person in the organization. This will then lead to people performing at their best which gives the organization greater success.
I have identified the key qualities of leaders which I believe can help every leader get better. Not every leader can have all these qualities but an awareness of them can increase the qualities in us. Here are the key qualities of great leaders.
Across all the leadership studies done the most important quality of a leader is setting the vision of an organization. As it is often said without vision people perish. Creating an exciting picture about the future is a fundamental requirement of a leader. The best example of a vision is the one set by John F.Kennedy when he said the following on May 25th 1961 “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” This is the best example of a vision as it is precise, simple and easy to understand. More importantly it is measurable. The key for a vision is it has to be simple yet it should be well beyond our comfort zones. The only way to be truly excited about our lives is to set BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and excite ourselves and the people we serve. A nice metaphor is if we have nearsightedness we need lenses or glasses to get a clear vision. The same holds true for our lives once we get clear on where we want to be heading our vision becomes clear and we can build a great life. As Abdul Kalam famously said “Dream is not that which you see while sleeping it is something that does not let you sleep.”
This is one of the essential qualities required for an effective leader. Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. It is the ability to stand by the truth even when it is tough. If we live with integrity then our fears reduce because we are honest with ourselves. Gandhi said it beautifully “One man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other departments. Life is one indivisible whole.” He also said “What I say and what I do are in total harmony.” Anyone with high integrity has great peace of mind as they don’t have anything to hide and it also helps in developing resilience.
Passion makes your days fly. Once a leader breathes and lives passionately it rubs off on others as well. An example of passion is Roger Federer. As of this writing he is already considered the greatest tennis player that ever lived but he still takes each tournament as a challenge, and practices with the same enthusiasm. Just imagine how our lives would improve if we took every workday as a chance to show case our brilliance in our field of endeavor. Our days would fly and also the line between work and play would blur and we would see our life as a whole. We always here leadership gurus saying do what you love but the fact is you may love singing but you cannot become a singer unless you have the competence to do it well. So I think love has to be married with your area of competence and then your days will be filled with passion. For a start leaders should love their job and see the benefits it provides in terms of finance, sense of worth and making a difference. Then see the difference it makes on each of the members of the organization.
Discipline is the ability to do what you should do when you should do it whether you feel like it or not. As Jim Rohn said “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” We all know what we need to do to achieve success but we need tons of discipline to follow through on our commitments. Researchers have confirmed that every expert across various fields including legends like Bill Gates, Mozart, Tiger Woods have spent 10000 hours of deliberate practice before they were called a genius.This reminds us on how much effort is required to reach our Everest. We can’t stop exercising after 10 days because we didn’t lose weight. It takes discipline to stick to our long term goals but we have to evaluate the reasons for what we want. If we want to live to be 100 so that we can contribute to the world, take care of our family and see our grandchildren blossom then we need to take care of our health. In each area of life we need to find the reasons to keep going and once we find compelling reasons for each one of our goals discipline is automatic.
I have read a lot of books on leadership, management and success. The main takeaway from all of them is you need to have goals to succeed. It is such a simple point but not everyone has taken the time to write out their goals in all areas of our life. Once we have defined our goals we can wake up with the enthusiasm needed to take our life to the next level. Once we achieve our main goal it is good to pause and reflect on a job well done but we can truly be happy only when we set even more challenging goals to keep going further. You may not reach all your goals by writing them down but it gives you a much better chance at achievement. We don’t lose anything by writing down our goals but we gain everything once we achieve them. Set financial, personal, health, work goals and your life will go to the next level. An example of a goal is “I run a half marathon in 2 Hrs 30 Min by Sep 1st 2015.”
Lead by example
“The leader sees things through the eyes of his followers. He puts himself in their shoes and helps them make their dreams come true. The leader does not say, “Get going!” Instead he says, “Let’s go!” and leads the way. He does not walk behind with a whip; he is out in front with a banner.” -Wilfred Peterson. You cannot be great without starting. First leadership principle is to lead yourself before you lead others. There is a story of a woman going to Gandhi and saying please advise my son to stop eating sugar and Gandhi replied bring him after 3 days. When the woman visited Gandhi after 3 days she asked “why did you ask me to come after three days” he responded “because 3 days back I was still eating sugar.” It just goes to show that you can’t advise other people to do something which you are not doing. Yes this is simple but the only way to get a following is to set an example for others to follow. Set higher standards for yourself and keep on raising the bar. Never settle for the ordinary. Excellence is a journey so stay committed to it for a life time.
This is one of the best kept secrets of all effective leaders. Effective leaders are always looking for opportunities to learn more, be more and achieve more. With the explosion of technology and the rapid changes happening in the market place it is imperative for a leader to be ahead of the curve by constantly seeking to improve and stay current. Find out the experts in your field, read their blogs, read their books, listen to their podcasts, share what you have learned and keep on learning. Take industry certifications in your field of expertise.“All I have learned, I learned from books.” Abraham Lincoln and another great quote from Henry Ford “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
As Winston Churchill said “Courage is rightly considered the foremost of virtues for upon it all others depend.” Courage is an important quality of a leader. You have to conquer your fears and stay courageous in the face of adversity. For example Jack Welch when he took over GE made the bold declaration “GE will only remain in businesses where they can be Number 1 or Number 2 in that market.” This is indeed a bold declaration and a great example of courage. The only way we can develop courage is to take calculated risks and keep taking them regularly to eventually reduce the fears that are holding us back.
I think if you truly want to inspire others you need to be inspired. You need to love life and once you do that it translates into a passion for everything life offers. We all have the same 24 hours it is what we do with it that matters. Once we love our life we actually will manage ourselves better. I like what Benjamin Franklin said “Don’t squander time as they are the stuff life is made of.” Yes I am not going to talk about time management separately because if you love life and want to live it to the fullest you will automatically use your time wisely. Once you love life it will obviously catch on with the followers and this creates a ripple effect which creates happy followers who will in turn into great leaders themselves.
I am especially impressed by the optimism of Nelson Mandela even when he was in prison and didn't even know whether he will ever see the freedom he desired. This is in his words (I came across this in the book "In His Own Words Nelson Mandela") when he was in prison "I always knew that one day I would feel once again the grass under my feet and walk in the sunshine as a free man." This shows his high appreciation for life and his optimistic outlook.
The views expressed here are my own and do not represent my organization.