Everyone has their own vague ideas about leadership qualities. I have mine too. Over all these years at topmost positions across the globe, I finally accept one definition of leadership, the one put forth by Dr. Stephen R. Covey, one of the greatest motivational speakers of America.
“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage — pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. The enemy of the “best” is often the “good,” says Dr. Covey.
In these few words, Dr. Covey has summed up the very essence of effective leadership. He speaks about identifying priorities, standing for them without flinching and never settling for anything but the best. This principle applies to leadership perfectly. It considers people, situations and your own objectives as leader- at home or work.
To achieve this objective, we need leadership qualities. But we first need to understand leadership qualities and what they entail.
Defining Leadership Qualities
The practical skill of guiding and teaching people, organizations and even countries to achieve a common goal is a broad definition of leadership qualities. There are several leadership qualities that an individual must possess.
While some are inherent or born with us, we acquire others by playing roles within our family, school and society.
Acquiring leadership qualities is not an easy task. It requires years of dedicated hard work and an overall willingness to play roles that nobody else may wish to take. If you are interested in fine-tuning or acquiring leadership qualities, this article will prove very useful.
Top 13 Leadership Qualities
1. Excellent Communications
I rank excellent communication skills as topmost leadership quality for a reason. A leader has to be able to get her or his message through the people- whether they are playmates, colleagues at the workplace or even citizens of a country.
The first step towards establishing a two-way communications channel is by breaking the proverbial ice. Meaning, you need to reach out to people. Understandably, nobody will exert efforts for knowing you. Great leaders make themselves known to people through their ideology and work.
There has to be a two-way communication between you and others. This means, they should feel confident while talking or discussing something with you. And you need to possess sufficient patience to lend them an ear.
If you look at great leaders, they will have one thing in common: they spare no effort to communicate with others. Large corporations have corporate communications departments to keep employees abreast with company activities, politicians communicate through newspapers, TV, websites, social media and blogs.
Should you wish to acquire excellent communications skills, – go ahead and break the ice with people around. Once this invisible wall is broken, it becomes easier to communicate and put your ideas through.
Every great leader has a vision about something they want to achieve for the public, an organization, team or society. Therefore, having a vision is one of the very important qualities of a good leader. It is about getting people to believe in a good future waiting to be achieved through collective effort.
Imagine someone driving a bus without knowing where to go. The driver would waste own time as well as that of passengers without getting anywhere. However, money and effort will go waste. The same holds true for leadership. It is like steering a boat or a bus.
Unless you decide where you want to lead a group of people, you may not find any followers.
Having vision all about the future. It means showing people what they can achieve and improve their future lives. In a football match, this vision is limited to a victory. For a country, a vision is important to decide the fate of its citizens.
Integrity is about telling people the truth at all times. Telling the truth without a sugar coating, no matter how bitter it is to swallow. Integrity also means remaining faithful to your followers.
We all know of labor union leaders that took fat bribes from companies to betray workers. But they tell workers that their demands are under consideration to prevent a labor strike. These union leaders lack integrity.
Integrity is again one of the very important qualities of a good leader. Without integrity, it is doubtful anyone will follow you or accept you as their leader. Integrity also means communicating the truth with your followers, without any exception and regards to personal interests.
A great leader has courage. She or he has the courage to do things without thinking of personal gain. And courage to work without knowing whether it will bear fruits or not. A leader also requires courage to tell the truth and accept criticism from followers, should the need arise.
Courage is an essential leadership quality for many reasons. For one, there are no assurances that any project or work you take will succeed.
And if it fails, you need the courage to explain to people- from teammates at school to managers at the workplace or even citizens of a country- why something was a failure. You need the courage to face the ensuing brickbats.
At the same time, a good leader needs courage to come up with out-of-the-box and innovative ideas that have never been tested before. Such out-of-the-box ideas involves getting people to walk on unknown paths, which will meet some resistance from followers.
A good leader also needs the courage to stay steadfast on the chosen path and objective, regardless of how scary or impossible the pursuit may appear. And this courage has to filter down to followers so they also keep focusing on the objective.
Humility ranks as one of the topmost leadership qualities. Without it, you will not get far. Every great leader, unless she or he has been a dictator- has won the hearts of people by humility. By this, I mean genuine humility and not just a facade or faked behavior.
Humility comes when you have courage and integrity. It is a behavior that says you are willing to work for common welfare rather than putting own interests first.
Humility is also willingness to accept you are wrong and accept viewpoints of the other. It is taking criticism into stride without bearing grudge towards anyone and accepting praises without getting flattered.
One can achieve humility by keeping aside that stumbling block called ego. The egos of great leaders are never hurt. They know when they go wrong, accept their mistakes openly, apologize honestly and look for other paths that lead their followers to success.
Also, humility means acceptance of blame. Understandably, not everyone will be happy with your style of leadership. That does not mean you chuck them overboard. Instead, it involves accepting their difference and moving ahead towards a particular objective.
A good leader always focuses on the goal without flinching. They also help others maintain their focus on the goal.
This is like playing a cricket match in the World Cup finals. The team batting second focuses on scoring more runs in a shorter time than the opponents.
They know the target and adjust their game keeping it in mind. The same way, a leader keeps focus on the goal and guides people towards it.
There will be instances when the focus can shift due to any adverse situation that may arise. A great leader takes such situations into stride and continues with a focus on the final goal.
Cooperation is your ability to get everyone on the team or citizens of a country working together for a common purpose. It can also be defined as your ability to set a proper goal and make people work for the goal because they believe in you as their leader.
Also, cooperation means lending a hand and actively participating in the job. It also means giving a commitment that you will work with every team member, brushing aside whatever personal or individual differences that may be.
A very important measure of cooperation is getting the right people to work for you rather than choosing just anyone offhand. You need to cooperate with others despite being a leader as much as they would expect your cooperation in return for their loyalty.
8. Planning Skills
A good leader always has excellent planning skills. They know how to chart a roadmap for achieving something. And they draw this roadmap by communicating truthfully with others with integrity and humility, without losing focus of the goal while seeking cooperation.
Remember, you cannot get people as followers unless you show them a proper plan. Followers will definitely want to know how to attain a goal, what it entails and steps they need to take towards it.
While great leaders should also be a good planner, they also need to consider opinions from followers about how something can be done. You are not the only thinker and planner: others may come up with great ideas that can be put into the plan as well.
Another qualities of a good leader is flexibility in their approach. Flexibility is a very desirable quality of leadership because it helps you to adapt a plan and lead people on a different path to achieve the desired goal.
Flexibility helps retain focus.
“Stay committed to your decisions but be flexible in your approach,” is what noted motivational speaker, Anthony Robbins preaches. Rightly so. Because a pre-determined path need not necessarily turn out to be the best when we actually start working on something.
Unless a leader is flexible and adapts to various situations like loss of resources or assigning other roles to willing workers, a plan can never be successful. Achieving the final objective can lag and work done can prove futile.
10. Emotional Intelligence
A few years ago, people would have pooh-poohed at the mention of the term ‘emotional intelligence’. For every aspiring leader, having a great level of emotional intelligence is a vital leadership skill.
Emotional intelligence is nothing but the ability to understand the feelings and emotions of others and respond accordingly. It involves having compassion for people within and outside the team.
Having a high level of emotional intelligence helps you to gauge the mood of others. If a team member is facing personal or work problems, you can provide some relief and gain their loyalty. You can sense when team members feel demotivated and step in to improve engagement & boost their spirits.
Emotional intelligence as a leadership trait was overlooked for all these years. It is a skill that requires hard work to acquire. Usually, some people are born with great emotional skills. This helps them emerge as great leaders too.
A good leader is accountable to team members, organization or the country. This is a very essential leadership skill. Without accountability, a leader can digress from the objective, get corrupted and waste collective efforts exerted on important projects.
Accountability comes in various forms. It means being responsible for whatever goes on in the team. To be held accountable if the performance is lagging. It can also entail taking full blame of something when things go sour, without accusing team members, seniors or countrymen, as the case may be.
The problem of corruption has eaten into India’s economy because some leaders falsely believed they are above accountability.
A great leader in anything- sports, business, work or politics should be a master of the trade. Without mastery or proficiency in one or more skills, nobody will assign you a leadership role. For example, your employer will place you in charge of a project only when they are confident about your skills.
By the same corollary, you will not elect an inept person to lead the country nor go to a cobbler to seek medical advice. You will go to someone who is a master in that particular skill.
To be a good leader, you will have to prove your skills are far superior when compared with those of team members. This gives them confidence that you would have answers and solutions, should they encounter any hurdles. If you wish to be a leader, master a skill or subject.
13. Emotional Stability
Emotional stability is one of the extremely important qualities of a good leader. Emotionally stable leaders know how to control their anger, pain, sorrow and also happiness or elation. They do not shout at team members or lose temper on every small issue.
Mastering emotional stability can prove very difficult, especially if you are a hot head or tend to jump into fits of joy at the slightest happiness.
As a leader, your emotions filter down to the team. Hollering at someone can demoralize a whole team. The same way, dancing with joy can send wrong signals that an objective has been achieved.
Generally, people tend to shun individuals that are not emotionally stable. A leader’s job is to rise above emotions and get the job at hand done quickly and efficiently.
Leadership qualities to become a great leader take time to acquire and develop. It is not an overnight job. If you see cricket captains of India, those who possess the above qualities have been very successful.
Dictators worldwide that have flouted these leadership qualities have met a violent death. You can acquire leadership qualities by reading some excellent books and leadership quotes by motivational speakers and management gurus.
They write from their own experiences and contain a goldmine of advice for aspiring leaders. But you will have to work to develop these leadership qualities in the real world to become a good leader.