5 Effective Leadership Qualities
We can list a few dozens leadership qualities and all of them will help in the process of becoming a good leader. In my view, however, some qualities are more essential than others and some define one’s leadership style entirely. Here are five leadership qualities that I consider to be essential in my direct and indirect experience. I strongly believe that developing and nurturing these traits are our obligations as leaders – not optional but required.
1. Embodying Integrity
Integrity builds respect, confidence and trust in your leadership. If leaders must possess and nurture just one quality, in my mind, it would be integrity.
Honesty is telling the truth—in other words, conforming our words to reality. Integrity is conforming reality to our words—in other words, keeping promises and fulfilling expectations. This requires an integrated character, an oneness, primarily with self but also with life”Stephen Covey
Making promises and mission statements to their employees and clients require us as leaders to keep them. When leaders consistently keep promises even when it is difficult to follow through, we earn respect, trust and confidence from our employees and start gaining true followers. Without followers, there is no leader. The opposite of integrity is a leader who provides lip service, yet who doesn’t truly follow their own words and advice. The relationship between these leaders and their employees is contractual and forms very shallow loyalty. As soon as better conditions show up elsewhere, the employees leave for the opportunities. I often hear business owners and managers complain about their ‘disloyal’ staff. Loyalty is a two-way street and integrity is a good cause for the loyalty effect. People with integrity are loyal, loyal to their cause and to the people around them. Often organizations or leaders expect loyalty from their employees, however, true leadership starts with their own loyalty to their employees and clients. Only then can they hope to earn loyalty and respect.
2. Being Proactive
It is no coincidence that I call my coaching Quadrant 2. Leaders need to be proactive – acting in anticipation of future challenges, needs, or changes. Planning ahead and visioning should be a regular part of a leader’s work. The absence or lack thereof often results in teams and organizations treading water at status quo at best with stale and mediocre outcomes. Once a fellow executive boasted to me about his role as a leader asserting that he existed only for problem-solving and nothing else. Although it is important to be able to solve problems when they occur, the bigger and more important job of the leaders is to anticipate challenges and issues before they happen and address them in advance. We don’t want to disappoint our customers and problem-solve reactively. Rather, we want to prevent disappointment from happening in the first place by proactively addressing future problems. Being proactive doesn’t just revolve around products and services but also around our staff and human resources.
I don’t think my problem-solving fellow executive is a rare breed, unfortunately. A lot of leaders approach their work reactively. While understanding that their employees are an essential part of their company’s success, leaders spend very little time nurturing their teams: learning about their motivation, job satisfaction and wellbeing. ‘Leaders’ indicate that they ‘lead’ and my interpretation is that we should lead people to achieve great results for our organizations, teams and communities from which we will all benefit. Understanding the importance of ‘people’ is a great beginning.
Proactive leaders will prioritize people over things. They will dedicate some part of their work to learning about their team members, their motivation and challenges. Great leaders always think of ways to support their team’s growth.
You might have experienced that some managers and directors constantly postpone HR-related meetings because for them it is nuisance and they can spend their time on more ‘important’ and pressing matters – like products development or clients. These leaders are clearly missing the boat. Without a team that is strongly motivated to be their best and do their best, a leader’s success is severely limited. Whereas being able to tap into the team’s individual strengths and their best efforts, you gain much stronger outcomes as a team and much better success as a result.
To keep ahead of the pack, we need to think ahead, plan ahead and act ahead – activities from the Quadrant 2 box. When your client’s needs are changing and this is inevitable (the only thing that is constant in life is “change.”) you as a leader must meet these changing needs in order to survive. Mediocre organizations will react rather late to changes and risk losing their competitive edge. Good organizations will be able to ‘react’ in efficient ways to deal with the changes. Great organizations led by proactive leaders will already be ahead of the pack guiding their teams and organization to take advantage of the changes. Reactive leaders are always chasing the tail of someone else’s success. A great leader is constantly aware and reading the trends in order to plan, meeting the next emerging wave in time and riding it beautifully and effectively. That’s what proactive leaders do. And that requires you to always be in a planning mode. Make this trait part of your reflex.
3. Inspiring with a Clear Vision
Great leaders always have a clear vision backed by a strong and obvious “Why”. Whether it is transformation of your clients or employees (maybe both) through your technology, your education, or helping the environment through your products, your vision needs to inspire you first, then your team, which then together inspires your clients. We, humans, seek more than just money, profit and success. We want to be valued at our work. We want to be appreciated for what we do and offer our employers. We also want to value our work. What we do should matter and why we do it matters even more. Great leaders always speak to their vision. As a leader, you must aspire to inspire!
4. Showing Humility (understand the co-dependence between leadership and team)
Teams cannot be successful without strong and effective leadership. Equally, leaders cannot be successful without effective teams and each member’s commitment to the vision and goals. Therefore, it is imperative that leaders hire and train the right people whose talents and qualities align with their jobs and teams. I have encountered far too often managers who see the hiring and training process as a hassle and something to get on with rather than an excellent opportunity to strengthen and empower the team. Often, managers just want to get it done so they can focus on their ‘other’ work tasks, missing the point of leadership entirely. What task could be more important than hiring and training your future protégés? Success can only be achieved when a team has the right people on it with strong and inspired commitment.
5. Empowering team talent – obvious and hidden
Generally speaking, highly motivated people want to grow and expand as humans and professionals. Great leaders constantly find genius in their team members and encourage them to be their best. Being able to see and draw out their talents is not only good for the team and organization but also incredibly powerful in keeping the best talents around for a long time. This requires leaders to be both perceptive and committed. Being perceptive allows you to find the hidden/dormant talents in each team member and being committed enables you to diligently nurture these talents. Untapped talent is a tragic and unnecessary waste both for the organization and the individuals.
There are many other excellent qualities of leadership of course. In my view, however, the above-mentioned traits make great leaders and help them form excellent teams while nurturing the talents within, helping connections amongst the colleagues around aligned values and purposes and fostering respect and trust in one another. Your team is now not only happy but can also achieve great things together. Perhaps they don’t make the most money in the world nor bring in the highest profit margins but that is not the purpose of being a great leader. Great teams have a clear shared common vision allowing them to have fun together and feel fulfilled. Productivity, innovation and shared success inevitably follow.