There are so many definitions of leadership today, and they are sometimes based on context. And Irrespective of how we define leadership, it all still boils up to leading. Guiding and helping others achieve a worthwhile goal.
Let us take a cue from the definition of leadership by a world-famous leadership coach and mentor, John C. Maxwell. He defined a leader as “someone who knows the way, goes the way, and also shows the way”.
A leader determines the success or failure of an organization or body. This also includes a small group like a family. A good leader always has a futuristic view of things, has an open mind, and can turn ideas into reality. There are a lot of great leaders that have walked this earth, and there are various characteristics that distinguish them from every other leader we know.
In this article, we look at different leadership characteristics so as to give us a broad perspective of what makes a great leader and also to inspire us to become great leaders in our respective environment because whether we accept it or not, we are all leaders in different areas of life.
18 Leadership Characteristics
The following leadership characteristics are some of the important leadership traits every leader must have:
- Vision and Purpose.
- Great Communicator.
- Problem Solving.
- Good Listeners.
- Creative and Innovative.
- Honesty and Integrity.
- Decision Making Capabilities.
- Commitment and Passionate.
- Inspires Others
- Delegate and Empowers
- Emotional Intelligence.
1. Vision and Purpose
With each new day in Africa, a gazelle wakes up knowing he must outrun the fastest lion or perish. At the same time, a lion stirs and stretches, knowing he must outrun the fastest gazelle or starve. That is an extract from My Vision by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Vision and purpose are important leadership characteristics.
The job of every leader irrespective of their disposition is to stir the followers into something great and to ensure their survival. A great leader understands the terrain they are in, they articulate what’s possible and come up with measurable goals to work towards. And they help provide the pathway to greatness for their followers.
A business, organization, or a body’s vision only goes as far as the leader’s influence. Every great leader that has ever walked this earth has one thing in common, they are articulate and have a vision for where they want to be or where they want their organization to be. They have a purpose, and a plan to back it up. Without a plan, survival becomes questionable.
“A good leader takes little more than his share of the blame and little less than his share of the credit” ~ Arnold H. Glasow.
A good leader is someone who does not shy away from their mistakes, they accept their flaws and understand that mistakes are a necessary part of success.
“When a team, and especially a leader takes ownership of its problem, the problem gets solved. It is true on the battlefield, it is true in business, and it is true in life” ~ Jocko Willink.
While it can be tempting to apportion blame to others and shy away from our mistakes, doing so only reinforce low self-worth or irresponsibility. The true measure of every great leader is their ability to accept the outcomes of their situations and come up with a better plan to make things right.
3. Great Communicator
Leaders who are great at communicating their ideas, vision and purpose have ruled this world and will continue to rule this world. Like Martin Luther King Jr. they can inspire peace, and like Adolph Hitler and Napoleon, they can inspire and start wars.
Words are power, they have the power to motivate people and can also make people do unthinkable things.
Being a great leader requires you to be able to articulate your ideas, concepts, vision, and purpose to your followers in a simple and digestible manner. Like Albeit Einstein once said; “if you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t know it yourself”.
Until you can clearly communicate your ideas or vision to your team members, stating clearly the desired outcomes, getting a desired goal or results will always be difficult if not impossible.
4. Problem Solving
Problem-solving is a learnable skill just like every other skill in the world. It is an important characteristic of a great leader.
Life, in general, is full of problems, and it’s the problems that inspire change and innovations. Being a great leader requires an individual to be able to understand challenges or problems and also be able to come up with a tailor-made solution(s) for the problem.
5. Good Listener
Being a good listener is absolutely critical to being a good leader; you have to listen to the people who are on the frontline” ~ Richard Branson.
Your ability to show interest in other people, and to listen attentively is an indisputable leadership characteristic. In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie suggest that “when you talk to someone about themselves, they’ll listen for an hour. People love to talk more about their pain points more than anything else”. Being a good listener shows you care and appreciate the person talking, and it can go a long way in developing rapport.
It is a skill and a learnable one for that matter. As a great leader or someone aspiring for a leadership position, it is important to learn this important skill because it’s another way to develop empathy for the people you’d lead or go on to lead.
6. Creative and Innovative
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” ~ Steve Jobs.
Our world is evolving at an all-time speed, and ideas are becoming obsolete within seconds. To survive and dominate in an industry or in life requires innovation and creativity. Looking at our environment today, especially the business environment, it takes innovation to succeed, and it takes innovation to compete and stand out. Like in the wisdom of the gazelle and the lion, those who wish to become leaders in their respective industry or life must continuously innovate and iterate.
You have to think outside the box as the popular axiom goes or stands being annihilated.
History has shown time without number that dictatorial form of leadership never last, it comes with a lot of downsides when compared to other forms of leadership.
Succeeding as a leader transcends knowledge, skill, or experience. It requires an individual to be able to understand the feelings and emotions of their followers.
While profit and growth are important for a business to survive, it is also important for leaders to always remember that their followers are humans and not machines, they have emotions, they have their different problems outside the work environment. As a leader, you have to understand this and put yourself in their situation. By doing so, you get a clearer understanding of what matters, and also the best way to navigate them through life, and also work.
You have to be able to provide solutions to problems in a non-conflicting manner and be able to understand the capacity and capabilities of the followers or team members. Everything mustn’t be a do or die affair.
“To be a leader, you have to make people want to follow you, and nobody wants to follow someone who doesn’t know where he is going” ~ Joe Namath.
Everyone has problems in life, everyone has obstacles they face in silence. These challenges or problems can spill into other areas of life such as work. The ability of a leader to inspire and motivate the followers to push through or buy into the organizational vision is what determines the success of every great organization.
9. Honesty and Integrity
“The supreme quality of leadership is unquestionable integrity” ~Dwight Eisenhower.
Honesty and integrity are two important elements in leadership, no follower or person will engage the service of a person who is perceived to be dubious or lacks integrity. Integrity and honesty breeds trust, and trust is everything when it comes to leadership in today’s world.
As a leader, you have to have values, and your values should be ethical and unquestionable. Never engage in shady activities because it has a way of coming back to hurt your reputation.
10. Decision-Making Capabilities
Indecision, as stated by Napoleon Hill, is the major cause of failure within our environment.
To be a leader requires an individual to be decisive and also be able to make decisions quickly. The world we live in is moving very fast, and ideas that are unimplemented within seconds becomes obsolete. As a leader, you need to be able to make decisions very fast and also be able to forecast future directions.
A leader’s decision can affect a company’s direction either positively or negatively. Taking the right decision at the right time is paramount to success. So, as a leader, you have to develop your decision-making skills.
An effective leader is one who is confident in themselves and in their abilities. It is hard to follow someone who is unsure of their potential or abilities. Leadership is all about assertiveness, and the only way to be assertive is to be confident. The best way to develop confidence as a leader is to understand your values.
It is only when you are confident of yourself that can you be willing to lead others. Confidence in one’s ability is a great quality of a leader.
12. Commitment and Passionate
It takes commitment and passion to achieve anything worthwhile in life. As a leader, you have to love what you do or where you are, not doing so will only breed resentment and you’ll become antagonistic towards others.
Remember that your followers look up to you, they see the level of work you put in. The way you work will largely determine how your followers reciprocate. It’s impossible to be lazy and expects others to be hard working. Your commitment to work, your values, and the organizational values are what will give you the desired respect and admiration of others.
Resilience is a good quality of a leader.
Every great leader that has walked this earth know how to rally their followers both in good and in bad times, they understand the value of persistence and the value of being positive even in hard times. Life will do a great job to throw blows at you whether you’re in business or in your personal life, your ability to withstand the hard times and your ability to keep on working towards your goal is what will define you.
As a leader, people will look up to you for motivation and inspiration. It is, therefore, your responsibility to stand strong, and keep pushing through in difficult circumstances.
14. Inspires/Influence Others
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” ~ John Quincy.
Your qualities as a leader can be determined by your level of influence.
Character defines a man. Your character will determine how people perceive you, it also determines how you go forth to influence others within your environment. You have to set a good example.
Being an influence revolves around many things, but one thing that is certain is that you have to develop a positive attitude if you want to influence others. You have to be committed, caring, and empathic to your followers.
15. Delegate and Empower
You can never do everything by yourself. If you try, you’ll eventually get burned out. And, if for any reason you succeed in doing things by all yourself without helping others, it goes to show you are either selfish or inconsiderate towards the development of others. Nobody likes a selfish person.
As a leader, you have to focus on key activities that produce the most results and delegate the rest to your followers. This way you get time to do more important things and you also get to empower others.
Delegating is an important leadership quality because it’s a great way to nurture your followers and increase productivity within your organization. Train them and let them do their best, they’ll thank you for it.
“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real” ~ Thomas Merton.
Humility is about taking control of the ego. It could be tempting for we humans to feel superior; this feeling of superiority can sometimes get overboard and we develop negative attitudes towards our followers. It is always advisable for leaders to be humble, show empathy towards others and always be considerate.
17. Emotional Intelligence.
“Good leaders improve their emotional intelligence by making a concerted effort to understand the reasons behind an employee’s behavior. It could be a lack of trust, a bad experience, or a fear behind a bad decision. When you understand this, it’s easier to react with dignity to any type of situation” ~ Vladimir Gendelman.
of all the leadership characteristics, emotional intelligence plays a very important role.
If you can’t manage your emotions as a leader, you get easily controlled by external events and you become unlikable. You do not only control your emotions as a leader, you also have to understand the emotions of your followers. This way you get to avoid unnecessary conflict within your team or organization.
Having a strong emotional intelligence as a leader has a direct correlation with your communication style, and also how you resolve conflicts.
As a leader, you have to be as open as possible, avoid any behavior that will conjure negative feelings or emotions within your team or organization.
In all the leadership characteristics, transparency plays an important role also, it determines the level of success in an organization or team.
One sure way of winning the trust of your followers as a leader is to be transparent in all you do, avoid favoritism, and internal politics. Never send a signal that some people are more valuable than the rest because it will only create resentment within the team or group and it can impact productivity greatly.
Leadership is a skill and just like every other skill, it can be learned.
We all are leaders in our respective areas of life, and it takes these mentioned qualities to lead effectively. Leadership shouldn’t be perceived as something difficult rather, it should be seen as a journey in which we can develop and unfold our innate abilities. The aforementioned leadership qualities are learnable and no one is born having all these qualities. If for any reason you are lacking in any of the listed leadership characteristics, ensure to learn and build yourself up because it is paramount if you must be successful.
How many leadership characteristics are you lacking from the above list?
Leaders are made, so build your leadership skills.