Saturday, January 12, 2013

What's the Most Important Quality in a Leader?

Good morning.
“And the beat goes on.......................

What are the qualities that make a leader effective, productive and successful (not just a good manager or administrator - but leader)?

There is no shortage of attributes that might qualify.  Here are some:
  • Likeability.  Effective leaders are people who are likable across a wide spectrum of interactions.  We all know people whose personalities and chemistries endear people to them right away. It isn’t always that they are charismatic, but more that you just like them on meeting and working with them.  The seem to have personalities that encourage people to gravitate to them - want to work with them.  Usually easy going, they are non threatening.  I am not sure whether this asset is innate or it can be developed.
  • Vision.  Leaders are dreamers of what can be, not what can’t happen.  They aren’t easily discouraged and they can convey their ideas to those about them.
  • Able to delegate authority.   Leaders spend their time moving things forward.  They surround themselves with good people and generally let those people perform without trying to micromanage them.  They can see strengths in others.
  • Experienced.  Leaders usually have practical experience under their belts.  They have been around the proverbial block and recognize both barriers and opportunities.  
  • Knowledgable.  Leaders know what they are talking about, and if the don’t they say so.
  • Skilled.  Leaders have specific skill sets.  They aren’t necessarily the best at everything, but they are very good at a number of things.  
  • Open and transparent people managers.  Leaders are nurturers. They can empathize with others.  They are able to admit their own mistakes and they neither hide things, make excuses nor b.s. people.
  • Motivators / cheerleaders.  Leaders generally know how to get people to give their best.  They are caring and they gives credit where due.  
  • Good listeners.  Leaders talk less and listen more. They are open to ideas, suggestions and other ways of thinking.
  • Focused.  Leaders are able to zero in on what needs to be done.  They are implementers in making things happen.
  • Adaptable.  Leaders are able to change directions. They don’t get stuck in the past and are open to what can work.
  • Sincere and believable.  Leaders don’t put on airs, don’t waste time in posturing or gossip.  They attract followers because they project their own belief in what they say.  They walk the walk.  
  • Integrity - Leaders are ethical and honest.  They strive to do the right thing. There is a strong sense of humanity about them.
  • Optimistic.  Leaders are believers in the possible.  The glass is almost always half full.  
  • Enthusiastic.  Leaders are boosters and they convey their enthusiasm to others.  That belief is infectious.
  • Organized.  Leaders are organized and know how to be productive and efficient.
  • Respectful.  Leaders respect those who work ‘for’ and ‘with’ them.  They truly care about people and treat everyone equally.  While tenacious, they are genuinely kind.
  • Humility.  Leaders are rarely full of themselves.  They aren’t guilty of false modesty, but neither do the trumpet their own horns.  While they take their work and their missions very seriously, they are comfortable with their own personal vulnerability.
  • Communicators.  Leaders know how to communicate across many lines.  They can express themselves well orally and in writing and they can get their ideas across without excess confusion or complexity.
  • Able to deal with hard realities.  Leaders don’t live in a fantasy world.  Even their dreams are tempered by reality.
  • Courage.  Leaders have the strength to act boldly even in the face of adversity.  They welcome challenges and are largely unafraid.
  • Consistency.  Leaders don’t blow hot and cold.  They are balanced - objective, fair, and reasonable.
  • Creative.  Leaders are thinkers and creators.
  • Sense of humor.  Leaders like to laugh, even at their own expense.  Their egos rarely get in their way.  They understand that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
  • Intelligent.  Leaders are usually smart.  Book smart, street smart. Intuitively smart.
  • Insightful.  Leaders can see the nuances in things.  They have good intuition.
  • Inspired and inspiring.  Leaders understand the importance of trust.
  • Commitment to ongoing learning.  Leaders acknowledge that they don’t know everything, and that they are really never done learning.
  • Confidence / self-esteem.  Leaders are confident.  They trust their instincts.
  • Solution oriented.  Leaders can identify obstacles and barriers and they look for solutions.
  • Passion.  Leaders are passionate about what they do.
  • Team oriented.  Leaders recognize that their success is dependent on a whole team of people. 
  • Patience / tolerance.  Leaders are demanding, but reasonable.
  • Authenticity.  Leaders are comfortable in their own skins and show it.
  • Tenacity - Leaders Don’t Quit.
I know.  Sounds the the Boy Scout oath:  ("A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent").  A saint! (Gad, I can't believe I still remember that).

There are probably other traits not listed, and doubtless some people will see many traits on the list as irrelevant.  Obviously no one person embodies all of the above.  Leaders aren’t necessarily saints.  But they are, in the final analysis, people the rest of us want to follow.  And the best of them embody some of the above traits.

Is there a single trait among all these that is the one single attribute that makes a good leader?  Is there a top ten?

I think the most important ones include:
Projecting an air of confidence and inspiring people to believe you have a vision of what might be and that you can get the job done - that your experience and knowledge and skills will carry the day.  In short, getting people to believe in your leadership through focus, passion and adaptability.

If there is a single most important trait to get people to follow you, to work with you, my own experience is that likability is the key.  I agree with Rocco Landesman’s comments in the recent interview he did here.  People will work hard for you if they like you.  More doors will open, more things are possible if you have that kind of persona.  Some are born with it and do nothing with it, some have it and use it, some learn it - most simply don’t have it at all.  There are ways to nourish and grow your likability and it seems to me that to the extent people believe you have integrity, that you are on their side, that you will fight to protect their backs, that you listen to them, respect them, care about them - believe in them - as people - then you are just more likable.

I would hope that as a field we might talk more about what it is we really want in our leaders (and why), and how, to the extent it is possible, we can help our leaders develop those qualities.

Have a good week.

Don’t Quit.