We speak about leadership so often, but what are the qualities that highly effective leaders possess? There is no lack of articles on this subject, and in the 30 years I’ve been in business I’ve seen just about every type of leader there is, and they have run the gamut of having very weak leadership skills to being an exemplary leader. Ineffective leaders consistently have significantly higher turnover in their organizations. Great leaders who ensure all the leaders below them are effective and well trained have low turnover in their organizations. Effective leaders understand the importance of organizational alignment and that it begins at the Board and Executive level.
Look around at the leaders you know. What do you think makes them great leaders? What are the common denominators they possess? What makes them stand out to you? If you ask 100 people what they think leadership means, you will likely get many different answers making this difficult to quantify. However, there will be common denominators that show up. Leaders with a true vision and a high level of integrity will develop talent strategies that support this and will bring success.
So, what makes a great leader? Here are a few common denominators.
- Authenticity: When you are honest with yourself and true to others, there is a palpable genuine and realness that others will see in you. This natural way of being takes practice because it’s not normal to let your guard down and be vulnerable. Authenticity takes courage! One benefit is you will form trustworthy relationships and become someone with credibility.
- Integrity: When others relate to you as someone they can trust to follow through on what they say, or what they promise, it shows them you have a high regard for your own WORD. In your mind’s eye, you speak the truth and own it and when you mess up, clean it up.
- Vision: There is an old quote, “Without a vision, people perish.” Having a clear vision for the future of your company and creating structures to fulfill on this vision along with the alignment of your employees makes for a cohesive environment and a place in which real results get produced.
- Empowerment: When you see others’ potential, then share yourself, your influence, your power, and opportunities – you are investing in their lives so they can perform and feel empowered by your support. It’s a win-win.
- Empathy: Empathy is about the emotional ability to experience the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. The ability to put yourself in the shoes of another is a gift. It shows you’re human and helps to develop stronger relationships with employees.
- Comunication: Open and honest communication is imperative if you’re going to be an effective leader. This encompasses oral, written, and non-verbal communication. Be responsible for making sure that what you have communicated was received. (Did what you said actually get the communication across?)
- Being Open: Much like driving a car and not being able to see what’s in your blind spot, we often think we have it all figured out when in fact we don’t know all there is to know and what we don’t know may unlock where we are stuck. This area is about the continuous experience of learning and developing yourself.
- Listening: Listening is distinctly different from hearing. Listening is active. Hearing is passive. To retain what is being said to us we need to actively listen. You will know if you are truly listening to another because you will be present and quiet – digesting what is said before you have something to say.
- Commitment: This is an important characteristic and truly encompasses all the other common denominators. You can “want” to build and lead a successful organization, but when your actions are aligned with the resolve or commitment then you are a force to be reckoned with even with anyobstacles in your way.
- Accountability: A great leader sees to it that whatever it is, it gets done. This means setting aside reasons and excuses and being someone who embodies being accountable for a specific result.
I recently read an article that used Jack Welch as an example of what a great leader was. Certainly, Jack Welch had admirable leadership qualities, but he also got rid of the bottom 10% of his organization each year. I’ve always had issues with this. Wouldn’t it be a more effective strategy to look at why certain people fall into that category? Is it because of their managers and leaders? Were they poor hires? Were they not a cultural fit? This is what building a talent-centric organization is all about and though I’m not saying getting rid of some people is a bad idea, I firmly believe it likely would have cost considerably less to discover these things rather than the costs involved in rehiring and firing the following year.
In summary, anyone can be a leader, however, to inspire, empower and be effective with others, such that they become leaders themselves is the result of true leadership.