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5 Qualities of Respected Leaders

Updated on January 21, 2016
Justin Breeze profile image

Justin is a combat veteran & writer who served the Marines for 13 years. Justin received a BSBA in 2015 and MBA (marketing focus) in 2017.

Leaders: Born or Developed?

Leadership has been studied for thousands of years, labeled both a skill and a talent by those who have made it their mission to master the art. In a major way, leadership as a quality can be compared to other attributes that humans either do, or do not, naturally possess. Some are born with a propensity toward social, mental and emotional characteristics that give them an advantage within specific roles in society. Conversely, others find their abilities strengthened mostly in experience and training, with no exceptionally natural talent to speak of. The concept of being born with a leadership advantage can be likened to those with natural athletic abilities; Although some are born with skills, talents and traits that most others do not possess, the vast majority of successful athletes are made through persistence and hard work. One thing is very clear, however, whether your leadership abilities are "God given" or developed through training and experience, anyone can strengthen their leadership capabilities by studying and implementing the qualities often found in successful leaders. Whether it be in decisive combat or the corporate frontier, here are 5 qualities of today's most respected leaders across the spectrum of industries.

#1 Humility

"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). Whether you're a believer of these scriptures or not, this truth has shown itself true in personal lives and businesses throughout time. Unfortunately, being "humble" has recently been cast in a negative light by American society, portrayed as a sign of weakness and lack of confidence. True humility however, although often tied to the lack confidence displayed by individuals who've recently failed, has little to do with actual confidence. Humility comes from an attitude of wisdom and gratitude. How does humility apply to leadership? Here's a few ways this virtue is applicable to building a powerful leadership style.

Listen to your peers and subordinates. As Socrates stated, "Wisest is he that knows, he does not know." Although your leadership position may represent a proven knowledge and experience, it is important to realize that you don't know everything. Additionally, actively listening to your coworkers creates a breeding ground for positive perceived organizational support (POS). According to the American Psychological Association, perceived organizational support fosters productive and enthusiastic employees because "being regarded highly by the organization helps to meet employees' needs for approval, esteem and affiliation" (Robert Eisenberger, PhD). Essentially, a leader who listens attains objectively creative ideas and motivates his/her employees at the same time.

Never act like you've "made it." Another key way arrogance manifests itself in the workplace, is in the attitude that the object of complete success has been attained (by the leader themselves). This is not to be mistaken for having an insatiable attitude of "we can do better" toward your employees, but instead an attitude of I can do better as a leader. A great leader believes that they've never truly "arrived," but instead that they are still a work in progress, hungry for self and organizational improvement. Additionally, this attitude has a high potential of influencing your work ethic, which will be discussed later.

Show grace. Even when the need arises to "correct" a deficiency in a subordinate, it should be done from a position of humility. Making the conversation about the efficiency of the organization and not about personal anger or disappointment. A great leader remembers that he or she has made mistakes in the past and is not condescending in tone. Over time, if deficiencies persist and it becomes essential to terminate or discipline, communicate to the individual that your decision is operationally based, as it is your job to ensure the success of the company.

#2 Flexibility

"The measure of intelligence is the ability to change." -Albert Einstein

Successful leaders throughout history have been known for their resolve. Their unwavering persistence being the key to their eventual success. To the untrained eye or the inexperienced hand, this may sound contrary to the subtitle "Flexibility." The difference lies in the object for which a leader refuses alternatives. Having resolve for the vision and goals of an organization is vital and should never be disregarded, but flexibility should be embedded into the strategy by which they are attained. This does not mean abandoning a well constructed plan altogether when friction arises, but understanding that when unpredictable results arise, it may be necessary adapt and overcome. Here are some considerations to develop flexibility and have a positive impact on your organization.

Never fall in love with your plan. Those who have spent considerable time around leaders can tell you of a time when an unwavering superior was incapable of considering other options. The individuals in leadership positions have knowledge and experience in their industry and they've used this to develop a plan they believe is "foolproof." Despite dramatic changes in the "battlefield" or market, they refuse to adopt new concepts and instead, attempt to cram their "foolproof" plan into action. The resulting realization that their plan will not work is dramatically delayed, losses are accrued and the inevitable changes implemented are done to the embarrassment of the original developer of this "perfect plan." Planning is critical to success, but the goal of success should take priority over the plan. This means that great leaders always consider that their way, may not be the best way.

Develop solutions based on relevant information. During the course of operational action, whether in the market or on the battle field, change is inevitable. It is the leader's responsibility to quickly adapt to new information and devise applicable solutions quickly to minimize loss and maximize profit. As many can attest, the 7 most expensive words in business are "We have always done it this way." Just because a specific business model worked wonders in your industry 5 years ago, or even 5 days ago, doesn't necessarily make it relevant today. A leader's flexibility will allow him/her to adapt to new market conditions, despite what worked in the past.

Don't flex on goals. Although it will require adaptive flexibility to reach the vision of the company, a leader should never compromise on meeting strategic goals. If the organization has not reached the finish line, the organization is not finished. A "good enough" attitude will not only affect the bottom line, it will permeate the attitudes of the entire organization.

A good decision now is better than a great decision too late.
A good decision now is better than a great decision too late.

#3 Decisiveness

"Decisiveness is a characteristic of high-performing men and women. Almost any decision is better than no decision at all." -Brian Tracy

One of the qualities that separates a leader from a follower, or the "men from the boys," is the ability to make a decision. You must be willing to take decisive actions that will not only affect your personal position, but the position of the organization. If you are incapable or unwilling to make these type of decisions, chances are, you are not viewed as a leader by your peers or subordinates. Additionally, being incapable of decisiveness might just be a clue that you are not experienced enough, or familiar enough, to be in a leadership position in the first place. Perhaps one of the most overlooked (or implied) qualities of great leaders in any industry, having decisiveness is not only powerful, but 100% necessary. Here are some key factors that will influence your ability to make a decision and lead the way.

Making decisions requires courage. As with any important operational decision, the fear of loss is an added element of difficulty to the inexperienced. "Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act in the presence of fear" (Rev. Mary Harvey). Typically, decisiveness is developed through experience and being willing to take risks. A good leader understands that there lies risk in nearly every decision, but has the confidence to take action on behalf of the organization. This is specifically true when timing is of the essence and the possibility exists that the decision-maker is missing relevant information, "required" to make the right choice. This ties in to the next point.

Timing is crucial. Decisions that don't have to be rushed, shouldn't be, but should be a product of detailed planning; However, decisions in the face of chaos and risk should be faced with courage and confidence. It's always better to make a good decision now, than a "great" decision too late. It is imperative that a great leader knows how to weigh the value of waiting for the "best" decision against the need to take action immediately.

When time permits, pool your resources. Not only does this provide more creative and objective insight, further research into potential outcomes and alternate planning possibilities, but it also serves to build cohesion and organizational "buy-in" as mentioned in #1. When time permits, a good leader will ask for input from peers and subordinates, giving them the opportunity to feel connected to the outcome and hone their strategic decision-making abilities for future operations.

#4 Recognition

"A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit." ~John C. Maxwell

There's an interesting correlation between those who seek credit for themselves and the lack of respect they receive. Alternately, those who deflect credit onto their team, peers or employees are appreciated and respected by all. One of the most outstanding qualities of great leaders is simply this, they are quick to give credit where it is due. Leaders who go out of their way to recognize the hard work and efforts made by their employees are not only loved, but are respected tremendously. Any leader forced to state "you may not respect me, but you'll respect my position" has already lost the battle for the respect of their subordinates. Here are a few ways great leaders use recognition to boost work ethic and morale.

Praise in public, correct in private. A good leader should constantly be searching for a reason to publicly praise performance. From the organizational standpoint, it shows everyone who witnesses the event that the company appreciates and values its employees, creating cohesiveness. From a personal perspective, the individual recognized will receive a tremendous boost in motivation, organizational belonging and ultimately, work ethic. When corrections in deficiencies are required, this conversation should always take place behind closed doors. This subtle gesture not only protects the individual's standing in the company (among their peers), but it ensures a more personal approach to understanding their deficiencies and re-instilling motivation. Correcting employees publicly will most certainly result in the exact opposite outcome, decreased understanding of the issue accompanied by decreased motivation.

Empower your employees. Great leaders encourage their subordinates to take initiative and give them the perceived power to influence operations. Studies have indicated time and time again that employee job satisfaction is strongly influenced by their belief that they, or their direct supervisor can affect organizational change. Leaders should strive to provide their employees a chance to take on additional responsibilities. Additionally, a good leader will ask for input from their subordinates (when time and operations permit) on operational decisions.

Show a personal interest. Visually recognize the employees around you and show an interest in their personal lives. Simply stating your employee's name when saying "hello" in the hallway goes a long way to strengthen the sense of belonging to the company. When time permits, spend some time asking your subordinates about their families, hobbies and TV shows. Lastly, when illness or tragedy occurs, a handwritten note or personal communication of sympathies will make a lasting impact on everyone involved.

#5 Self-Discipline

Lead • er • ship 1. "the action of leading a group of people or an organization"

The very definition of leadership implies being "out front" and showing others the way to success. In any industry and at any point in history, great leaders have done a phenomenal job of setting the example. Regardless of the size of the unit you are leading, your example will be the filter by which all others view themselves. Simply stated, if you want the best organization, you have to set the best example for others to emulate. Employees want to see "how its done" and have an increased respect for the leaders who are willing to show them. This concept starts, and ends, with self-discipline. Outstanding leaders hold themselves to a higher standard, not only for work, but personal ethics as well. Here are some ways self-discipline will dramatically improve your chances of being a great leader.

Lead from the front. As quoted by many, a boss will state "go" whereas a leader states "let's go." Great leaders utilize self-disciplinary actions to improve themselves on a daily basis in the knowledge that it will have a direct impact on the performance of their subordinates. They show up early, leave late, anticipate deadlines and surpass the standards at every available turn. All too often, leaders of today find themselves distracted with entitlement, the belief that although their employees are hard at work, they've earned the right to be golfing instead. Good leaders never expect their employees to work while they themselves relax; In fact, they rarely leave the office or field until all subordinate tasks are complete (during a traditional workday timeline).

Stay positive. Great leaders are disciplined in their speech, specifically concerning corporate matters. Strategic disagreements, personal feuds, organizational shortcomings and other topics which breed negativity are highly discouraged. Leaders should focus on the positive aspects of the organization and avoid bad-mouthing and discouragement. Allowing these types of speech to exist in the organizational environment will quickly lead to distrust in the leadership, lack of cohesiveness and lack of morale. When inevitable negativity does find its way into the office due to occupational shortcomings, a great leader will find a way to engage his subordinates and re-focus them on task with a positive outlook.

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