Leadership is as old as human history, and people have taken great pride in documenting and telling stories of their great leaders. When we study the lives of some of these great leaders, from historical figures to modern-day executives, they all appear to have a charisma: an ability to influence people to do what may have been deemed impossible before their time. These leaders also share a core set of qualities, which made their followers believe in them and their vision. Regardless of the time and era, these qualities have stood strong, and experts believe that every leader must possess a core set of leadership qualities to become a great leader and have their followers follow willingly. Leadership comes in many forms; personal, political, business, religious, military, and other forms. The focus of this article is to explore the top leadership qualities found in great business leaders.
When it comes to business leadership, the distinction between a good manager and a good leader is often made. Good managers are often regarded as the organizers who can create a sense of stability and run the operations smoothly, while good leaders are considered visionaries who can change the organization for better and take it to the next level. All too often, employees emerge with the title of manager because they were technically proficient, not necessarily because they had leadership qualities. They are promoted to a managerial position for having managed themselves and their work very well; but to manage others they need people skills. They have people reporting to them, which means they have to wear two hats; one has “Manager” on it and the other “Leader”, and they need both hats to succeed. While the manager works on the tasks and the projects, the leader focuses on the people. The leader involves people in decisions, listens to their input, empowers and coaches them for their individual and the group’s success. Both skills are equally desired and important; leaders to build and managers to run the organization, and the most effective business leaders have both managerial and leadership skills.
Leadership is part art and part science, and understanding human behavior and psychology is the key to mastering both. Leadership goes beyond getting the results; it inspires people to do better in every subsequent action. Leaders have followers, and the followers have a lot of expectations from their leaders. No two followers are the same and no two situations are the same. Effective leaders understand situational leadership: they can switch hats to best fit the needs. The leadership qualities enable the leaders to master the art of leadership and bring an enduring success.
Vision always comes first when discussing top leadership qualities. Great leaders envision a future better than today. Leaders are not satisfied with status quo, they have an inner desire for the next level. Leaders see opportunities and endless possibilities. Vision is a quality that leads the leaders. Those who know where they want to go, have higher chances of getting there. To develop a vision, leaders look inside to find their inner desires; what makes them unhappy and what gives them the energy. Then they broaden the horizon to meet the needs of others. A true vision is far fetching and goes beyond what an individual can accomplish. If the vision does not serve others, it’s probably too small.
Character is another critical leadership quality; it defines how others see the leader. A leader’s character has to be like a piece of rock. Great leaders know that character is more than talk, and that the character is revealed in their actions. Character is a choice. Crisis often reveals the character: when faced with adversity, a person makes either of the two choices: character or compromise. Character comes from what is the right thing to do and what is good for everyone. Character leads to trust, which brings a lasting success.
Optimism is another important leadership quality of a leader. Leaders project a positive image that everyone looks up to. They are seen as confident, credible, competent and caring. Leaders have a positive attitude; they always see the glass half full. Leaders believe in themselves and the group strength of others. They make eye contact with others and smile naturally around people. Leaders have a vibe that attracts others, and people love being around them.
Communication is the key to leadership and a fundamental quality of a leader. Without communication one travels alone. A leader must be able to communicate his or her vision in simple terms that followers can understand and believe in. Great leaders have the ability to simplify the message and reach out to everyone. Leaders communicate to seek a response. The objective of their communication is to give others something to feel, something to remember and something to do.
Courage fuels leaders to continuously move forward and face the challenges to do things right. Great leaders are not afraid of failures and are never hesitant to try a new approach. Leaders have the courage to admit their own mistakes and limitations, and more importantly, courage to do something to correct their mistakes and overcome their limitations. Leaders are driven to achieve goals and they are not afraid to take risks.
Commitment opens doors to opportunities and gives leaders the strength to face obstacles and oppositions. Great leaders show commitment and passion for their vision. Followers are only as committed as the leaders. Great leaders inspire commitment by example, doing what-it-takes to complete each step and every step that leads to the vision. They are focused on their goals and work whole-heartedly to achieve them. People only follow the committed leaders. Leadership is not a behavior but rather a process, which is a by product of character, skill, judgment, and actions taken toward a specific goal. It is very difficult; as a matter of fact it would be wrong to give any order of importance to the leadership qualities.
Humility is another important character of a leader. Great leaders understand that the status does not make them good, and they are not better or worse than their team members. Leaders accept and are comfortable with their own faults and limitations. Leaders put their team first. They seize every opportunity to recognize and praise their team for a job done well. A leader looking for credit soon becomes a sole performer and no one truly follows a selfish leader. A leader cannot be a walking ego.
Creativity comes naturally to great leaders. Leaders have the ability to think differently and are the first to question the conventional ways. Leaders get out of the box to see what others cannot see and lead their followers in new directions. Leaders often ask: What if…? Why not? What’s different? What hasn’t been done? Leaders live creatively and foster creativity around them. Creativity sparks imagination that opens doors to possibilities.
Openness allows leaders to listen to others without judgment and makes their followers feel comfortable to share their ideas, concerns and opinions. Great leaders are always hungry for new ideas. They know that their strength lies is their team, so they build an open environment that builds mutual trust between leaders and followers, and foster creativity and ideas that further their vision.
Relating is another important quality of a leader. Leadership is about people, not position, and there is no leader without people. Leaders love people and they have positive assumptions about people. Leaders know that helping their followers helps them. They make everyone feel special and never turn their back to anyone because they do not believe in their vision. As Theodore Roosevelt said “the most important single ingredient… is knowing how to get along with people”
Great leaders show magnanimity by giving credit where it is due. Leaders understand that they cannot make it alone and they need others to achieve their objectives. They empower others and give them the due credit for the triumphs, but take responsibility for failures. Leaders see others’ success as their own success, and others’ failures as their failures. Great leaders put others ahead of themselves and their personal desires. They understand that true leadership is about serving: serving the vision and serving the followers.
Learnability is another defining quality of a leader. Leaders know that leadership is more than reaching to the position; they have to constantly learn and grow. Growth determines who you are, who you attract, and the success of the organization. Leaders have seeking minds with hunger for information; a desire for self-improvement and a keen interest to know what they don’t know. Effective leaders observe and learn from others. They understand that mistakes are inevitable, but the important thing is to learn from those mistakes. Self awareness and the desire to improve allow leaders constantly reinvent themselves and refine their leadership skills.
The list of leadership qualities does not end here. Many times situations calls for judgment and use of qualities that otherwise may not reach to the top of the list of leadership qualities. Furthermore, having these qualities alone does not make someone a good leader. However, these qualities enable leaders to build rapport, learn necessary skills, respond appropriately, and take actions to lead.
Many argue that leaders are born while others believe that leaders are developed. Experts believe that it is a combination of both: every human being is born with most of these qualities; it is just a matter of how developed they are. For example, a lot of people can verbalize the words, but may not know how to combine the words, tone and style to communicate their intent in a way that the listeners not only understand but remember the message. For some these qualities come naturally, while others have to work hard to develop them. Nevertheless, those who strive to become better leaders must recognize these core leadership qualities, and work diligently to develop and consistently deliver them.