What makes a good leader?

business leadership Oct 11, 2019

Think of someone you admire as a leader. What characteristics sets them apart and what word(s) would you use to describe them?

Now ask yourself,”How many of these qualities do I possess? Are there some I would like to strengthen?"

At some point in your career (or family or community), you likely will take on a leadership role. Great leaders inspire political movements and social change. They also motivate others to perform, create, and innovate. Leadership is most simply understood as the process of one person getting other people to do something. Whether you’re leading a meeting, a project or a team, you will need to develop an approach based on factors like experience and personality that meets the unique needs of your team and its culture.

So, is there a style that is most effective for leadership? Leadership style refers to characteristic behaviors when directing, motivating, guiding, and managing groups of people. I won’t cover this in detail but familiar types include: Democratic, Autocratic, Servant, Transformational and Coaching.

In our recent workshop, I highlighted the following five author/experts and their leadership theories.

  • Ken Blanchard, author of One Minute Manager was well known for his belief that the best way to manage was 'Catch people doing something right’. More carrot than the stick. In Leaders and the One Minute Manager, he makes a case that Situational Leadership refutes treating all employees equally but one should apply personalized leadership styles to enhance motivation and performance. Predominant attributes are flexibility, discernment and appreciation.
  • Brené Brown in her recent book dare to lead asks a different question. How can we cultivate braver, more daring leaders and how do we embed the value of courage in our culture? Good leaders don’t pretend to have the right answers but stay curious and ask the right questions. Predominant attributes are courage, vulnerability, honesty and openness.
  • Meg Wheatley claims today's leaders need to adapt to complexity and ongoing change. In Leadership and the New Science, she asks "How do we live and work well together in chaotic times? Leaders now face and must balance many paradoxes: stability vs. change; freedom vs. control; structure vs. creativity.” Predominant attributes are flexibility, cooperation and grace.
  • Stephen Covey wrote many books and had a broad range of philosophies around leadership. One of my favorites is The Nature of Leadership where he states that good leaders, organizations and civilizations follow principles that operate in harmony with nature. Predominant attributes are simplicity, orderliness and stewardship.
  • John Maxwell also wrote several books but Good Leaders Ask Great Questions stand out for me. He states that asking questions helps leaders learn and grow, connect with people, improve teamwork, problem solve and develop better ideas. Predominant attributes are curiosity, unity, humility.

Though each author presents different leadership attributes, they are all a subset of Virtues, universal positive qualities of character. Virtues such as honesty, integrity, compassion, fairness and service are all elements of character. They are about doing the right thing, for the right reason - not just beliefs but how to think, speak and act.

Despite each author focusing on different virtues, 'thought leaders’ agree on several commonalities. Here are five.

  1. Tap into collective ‘goodness’ of others - Many statistics show that appreciation is the most effective way to bring out people's best, even more a motivator than money in the workplace. People respond well to positive feedback.
  2. Committed to lifelong learning - There is much rapid change in today’s world. New technologies, solutions and even words are discovered daily. Constant improvement is not only necessary to survive but aids in self-confidence, quality of life and good mental health.
  3. Strong core values - Leaders have a clear vision of their principles, beliefs and philosophies and understand how they shape culture and identity. Core values guides decision-making, team culture and ultimately character and behavior
  4. Creates meaningful environments - Leaders creating surroundings that are positive, joyful and purposeful. This can be accomplished through positive activities, celebrations, arts and traditions.
  5. Values relationships and empowers others - Leaders authentically connect with others, actively listening with a mind toward understanding and empathy.

These five competencies are key to inspiring others and creating a track record of success. They also align nicely with The Five Strategies™ of the Virtues Project (more on this in a future blogpost).

My last thought is that becoming a good leaders doesn’t happen naturally. Like every skill, it requires patience, determination and commitment. Practice and learning from mistakes is a necessity.

So, how will you cultivate your inner leadership?