Have you ever thought about what makes a great leader? Do you believe in the philosophy that everyone can be a leader and that everyone has a leader within them? As I was thinking about the topic for this month’s blog I thought about people who I have known and have encountered who are leaders. One thing leaders have in common is their burning desire to change things, to make a difference regardless if it was with people, widgets, or performance. It was the belief that there was room for improvement and that things could be better.
A “solid” leader must be able to build the team. A leader doesn’t simply supervise people, but great leadership has a lot to do with people development. Applauding the accomplishments of others and helping them develop the needed skills and enhance the ones they already have, is the “mark” of an excellent leader. A great leader is not a dictator or one who hides behind a title. A true leader will lead even when they are not asked to.
I am a strong supporter of collaborative leadership. Great leaders know it’s all about the team. When people are sure they have the respect of their leader it builds a strong bond. It is then easy for experts, and professionals to accept their leadership. When leaders are clear about their vision and their direction they make following easy.
Here are a few attributes that I think makes a great leader:
1. Respectful – Showing regard for self and others. Honoring the talents and skills of others.
2. Good listener – A leader must be a good listener. They should have the ability to understand, and even in some instances “listen between the lines.” Being an excellent listener also allows you to hear the “heart” of the person beyond the specific words used to convey their thoughts.
3. Visionary –A leader must be able to see the “big picture. The biggest confidence-booster for those you lead is to know that you are focused and that you have a plan. Visionaries are focused.
4. Trustworthy – This may be an obvious one, but definitely worth listing. A leader should be trusted. They should have the ability to keep the confidence of their manager, but also build the trust of the team.
5. Influencer – I mentioned this earlier, but a leader must have the ability to influence those they lead, even when the team doesn’t understand or see the direction that they’re going. The influencer must be able to put the team at ease and build their trust that in the end, it will benefit everyone.
6. Effective communicator – A leader must be a strong communicator who can effectively share their thoughts/vision.
7. Decisive – A leader must have the ability to make decisions –even the unpopular ones.
8. Fearless – It’s not that leaders don’t feel fear, they just don’t let it stop them.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it provides what I believe are key elements to being an effective leader. Some of the most effective leaders I’ve had the opportunity to work for had the ability to make everyone on their team feel important. No question was too silly nor was any idea too “off-beat.” Everyone’s opinion mattered. While not everyone’s ideas were chosen, they walked away from the experience feeling like they made a contribution.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there is a “thread” that is running throughout this list. If we as leaders successfully have these traits and others, we will build trust and ultimately be successful in whatever we want to accomplish.
So, I am not totally “sold” on the philosophy that everyone has a leader within them. However, I do believe that people can have and develop leadership attributes to help them be successful in whatever they choose to do.
I’m closing this month’s Blog with a quote from Lee Iacocca, who is a noted leader. His quote perfectly sums up the elements of an effective leader.
Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can’t miss. ~Lee Iacocca
“…not totally sold on the philosophy that everyone has a leader within them. …people can develop leadership attributes to help them be successful in whatever they choose to do.”
Are these, in essence, the same? How do you differentiate between them?
The two comments are different because it takes a combination of these attributes to be a successful leader. Just because someone has the attributes does not mean they are or that they even have the drive to be a leader. Just like other professions, you have to have the desire. I have worked with great people who possess some, if not all, of these attributes but the key element that they’re missing is the desire to lead other people.
I love the statement about a leader not being a dictator. I have two daughters. One who has been in a democratic group, where the girls are allowed to vote on what they do rather than being told what to do. My other daughter’s troop, not so much. The lesson plans are decided by the leader and there is no bending her rules about how the lesson will be learned and what will be learned. There is very little discussion and very little sense of teamwork. You can only imagine which group we have the best time with and have the best pictures with the biggest and natural smiles from all the girls in the troop.