What makes a good leader? Is leadership something that a person is born with or something that can be molded?
When asked to define the ideal leader, traits such as visionary, intelligence, determination and passion tend to come out prominently. Such traits are necessary but insufficient for a good leader. Often, the soft skills, which are equally essential, are left off this list.
While a certain degree of intelligence and analytical or technical skill is required for success, numerous studies have shown that emotional intelligence may be the key attribute that distinguishes outstanding leaders from those who are merely adequate. Here are some of the many characteristics that great leaders exhibit.
Earning the respect of the team
Having the ability to show respect, empathy and care for people regardless of their seniority level is a crucial attribute of great leaders. Earning respect is key to building strong relationships with people. Being empathetic allows a leader to tap into the emotions of the individual in order to build deeper connections. Combining these two together helps leaders to win and build strong and trusting relationships with others.
Being able to make the right decisions in real time is an essential skill for a leader. Decisiveness is the ability to make clear and timely decisions with the appropriate amount of information. More importantly, good leaders are able to make decisions that are clear and final.
Desire to learn
It is safe to say that most leaders will have to navigate uncharted waters at some point in their career. Because of this, they need to trust their intuition and draw on their past experiences and advice from others to guide them. Great leaders know that there is always something to learn from everything they have experienced before. They ask questions and have an inquisitive mindset to connect with present challenges and draw on past experiences to make prompt decisions.
Push others to be their best
Great leaders will constantly push others to be the very best that they can be. At the same time, they also provide opportunities for people to grow within and outside their comfort zone. After all, leadership is not about who is in charge but making sure the team stays focused on their goals, keeping them motivated and helping them be the best they can be to achieve those goals.
A great leader does not lead by force. Instead, a great leader motivates people. They lead by example and know when to step to help someone who may be struggling without outrightly directing them.
Good communication skills are essential for a good leader. They need to be able to interpret other people properly and not take what they say personally. They also need to be able to encourage communication between teams and establish an open door policy.
Articulate the vision
A great leader possesses a clear vision and focus for the business and its people. They are a strategic planner and believe in teamwork. They help people to reach their goals and are not afraid to work with people who may be better than them.
Ability to embrace failure
Regardless of how hard one may try to avoid, failures are inevitable. Great leaders often take it in their stride, viewing it as a learning experience. They are able to remain calm, view the situation from multiple lenses and logically think through the situation. What they do not do is to fall apart and reveal their concerns, which may lead to negativity, fear and low morale within the team.
Some people may think that “humility is weakness”, but the two concepts are very different. Humility does not mean abandoning one’s sense of self, but being aware that one is better off when faced with praise, and being able to rationally analyze what to keep in mind when confronted with advice. In fact, humble people are more ambitious than anyone else, but their ambition is not for themselves, but for the good of the group.
Knowing how and when to delegate
Good leaders recognise that delegation does more than simply alleviating their own stress levels. Delegating to others indicates confidence in the team’s abilities, which subsequently results in higher morale in the workplace, as well as loyalty from staff. They want to feel appreciated and trusted.
Warren Bennis, a management guru, once said, “Being a leader and being yourself are synonymous; it sounds easy, but it’s also hard.” The upside is that leadership traits can be learnt, honed and refined over time. Consistent practice and self-awareness helps to develop these leadership skills. It also requires regular transparent feedback from the team, self-reflection and taking action on feedback received.