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Ten Crucial Leadership qualities.

Updated on April 3, 2012

Ten Crucial Leadership qualities

I was reviewing that old question about whether leaders are born or made, and I came across this leadership quote by Christian Nevell Bovee: "Six traits of effective leaders: 1. Make others feel important; 2. Promote a vision; 3. Follow the golden rule; 4. Admit mistakes; 5. Criticize others only in private; 6. Stay close to the action. Example has more followers than reason. We unconsciously imitate what pleases us, and approximate to the characters we most admire."

I liked it a lot, especially the last bit about leading by example. My understanding is that it’s very hard to lead effectively from behind. You can have all kinds of charisma and gifts of persuasion, but if you don’t practice what you preach, your lack of integrity will preclude you from effectively leading.

I like the list of traits though the use of the word "traits" goes against latest convention that leaders are more made than born. I suspect that there's more hope and money to be found in the idea that leaders can be taught. Do you think people can learn the behaviours associated with those traits? I wrote a "hub" called "Can People Change" if you'd like to explore the question further.

Here’s what I’ve come to believe about great leaders from my research and consulting work: Great leaders help us feel the feelings we want and help us avoid the feelings we don’t want. It’s that simple. We want leaders to help us feel feelings like security, belonging, pride, joy, happiness, stimulation, hope, excitement, contentment, satisfaction, accomplishment, and we need them to help us avoid feelings like fear, hunger, anger, isolation, loneliness, sadness, frustration, confusion, and shame. We’ll follow people like puppy dogs if they help us avoid what we don’t want and give us what we do want.

One could make the argument that people can effectively lead through generating fear, but that motivator has a very short shelf life. People do not like fear and will go to great lengths to avoid it. It’s not wise for a leader to be associated with that emotion for too long. Positive messages generate longer and deeper loyalty than do negative ones. Fear worked well for a while for the latest Bush administration, but hope won out in the end.

In addition to having integrity, here’s what makes up the leaders who inspire, as well as what they need for themselves to last.

1) A natural desire to step forward. I know, I know, this doesn’t fit with the “leaders can be made” movement, but I strongly believe that there is something hardwired within great leaders that eventually compels them to step forward and take charge, or at least show the way. Whether that’s learned early on or is an outcome of genetics, or a combination of both, great leaders seem to rise to the foreground because they just can’t sit back and indefinitely follow.

2) Cognitive Intelligence (reasoning and problem solving) and the ability to exercise this during crisis. Great leaders are bright, and they know how to assess situations. They have a knack for identifying themes and patterns, and they tend to keep their heads while “under fire.” They are flexible thinkers, being able to reflect on their own thoughts, challenge their own perceptions, and adapt their thinking to the situation at hand.

3) There is more than one type of intelligence and just as important as possessing cognitive problem solving ability is having Emotional Intelligence. Great leaders have the ability to touch people. They help people have the feelings they want. They make people feel important, understood, valued, and cared for. They do this by being able to directly and clearly communicate, both verbally and nonverbally, in such a way that they influence people and persuade, even compel, them to follow. “I know you and your lives will be better off if you follow me” is the message they send, and that’s what their followers believe.

4) Great leaders have imagination and vision. They are able to see what could be, not just what is or what has been. Of course having vision and all these other qualities only works long term if leaders generate positive concrete results and are able to fulfill their inspiring promises. Words can inspire, but only for so long. Results transform inspiration into lasting loyalty. Empty promises are a recipe for cynicism.

5) Not only can great leaders see what could be, but they have the courage to make decisions knowing full well that they cannot be sure of the outcome of their decisions before hand. They are also able to be honest about their mistakes, and genuinely do see them as learning opportunities. Great loyalty and learning can be generated when leaders acknowledge their humanity and own up to their mistakes, and model how to positively respond to them.

6) Great leaders excite people and they tend to have passion and charisma. People are attracted and drawn to them. Charisma can take many forms; soft spoken leaders can be charismatic just as well as loudly expressive ones. “Transformational” leaders seem to motivate growth and change in people around them just by the nature of their personality. They seem to personify the excitement and change they wish to create.

7) Within each great leader seems to burn the desire to make an impact. In some form or another, they need to put their stamp on the world around them. For good or bad, they must make a difference.

8) To remain effective over time, great leaders must display consistency, reliability, and stability. People need to know where they stand. This doesn’t mean that they must be predictable in their decisions; in fact, great leaders often do the unexpected. However, to be trusted, they must over time demonstrate behaviour compatible with their expressed values. There’s a world of difference between being unpredictable and being erratic. Followers of great leaders may expect the unexpected from their leader, but it still fits with their overall understanding of who their leader is and what their leader is all about.

9) To last, a great leader must have the ability to choose people who understand and can carry out his or her vision, and then be able to delegate to them. However, great leaders are careful not to surround themselves with sycophantic “yes men”. They encourage their people to challenge them and be unafraid to voice a contrasting opinion. Great leaders are able to change their minds after open-mindedly hearing those opinions.

10)To last, a great leader needs to be able to enjoy leadership and the fruits of it. A leader who can savour being able to make a difference, who can live in that moment, and not be controlled by his or her drive can avoid burnout. Equally important, they will be able to maintain the excitement and energy that helps inspire their followers.

Whether born or made, some people inspire others. They have those tangibles and intangibles that draw people to them and convince them that their lives would be better if they followed. Above all, they have integrity. Are you ready to be a great leader?

If you found this article interesting or even helpful, I'd appreciate it if you thanked me by clicking onto the Google ads on this page which will give me a tiny tip!

Theo Selles, M.Sc.


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    • Theo Selles profile image

      Theo Selles 6 years ago

      You can't lead from behind...

    • lilyfly profile image

      Lillian K. Staats 6 years ago from Wasilla, Alaska

      Thank you sir! Just the arguement Sean and I were having last night.We can't lead by knowlewdge, but by example, yes? Elsewise, where is the strength of any knowledge or arguement? Voted up!

    • profile image

      Leadership quality 7 years ago

      The main question is what makes a successful leader for organization development? There are different types of leaders in the business world. Some of these are natural leaders that have fit into entire lives. Others were not born with strong characteristics, but have developed them through training and Development programs.