Since last couple of weeks, the question that has been keeping me busy has been if all men are born equal why some of them turn out to be great leaders while others turn out to be followers and worse of all some of them turn out to be bad leaders. I have been reading, researching and going through materials to find an answer to that. Who are the leaders? What differentiates them from the rest of the people? What accounts for good leadership? Leadership has long intrigued humankind and has been the subject of extensive research for centuries. There are numerous approaches that tries to explain the Leadership: The Trait approach, Situational approach, Relation approach, Emerging and New Leadership Approach. The more I read, the more I researched, I found a pattern in all the leaders. More or less all of them could be defined by the eight words – Honesty, Positive, Goals, Decisiveness, Learning, Communication, Persistence, and Charisma.
Honesty: Time and again various research studies have shown that the topmost thing that employees want from their leaders is integrity and Honesty. Always, always do the right thing. It makes employees feel like they know where they stand with you at all times. Be honest, fair, candid and forthright, and treat everyone in the same way that you yourself would want to be treated. Defined as the correspondence between work and deed, and as being truthful and non-deceitful (Locke, 1991). In Hoffman and other’s (2011) meta-analysis, honesty/integrity was found to be positively related to leadership effectiveness. One’s business and its employees are a reflection of yourself, and if you make honest and ethical behavior a key value, your team will follow suit. Openness and candor are characteristics that most people appreciate. There are a few people who will take advantage of such traits, but the vast majority will appreciate them. Bad Leaders are one’s that try to fake honesty, some of them even gain success in the short run but most of them always get caught in the long run. Faking honesty is never a good decision and a leader is as good as his last action. Once caught at being dishonest, he will never be able to regain the trust. The age-old Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a good standard to follow both today and tomorrow.
Positive: By the very definition of leadership, a Leader is one who exudes confidence, a one who gives hope in desperate of times and a one who is able to show a ray of light during the darkest of hours. No matter what the circumstances, no matter what the situation, a leader should always project an image of Positive thinking. The future should always be seen as bright and optimistic. Tomorrow will be better than today. W. I. Thomas wrote many years ago about self-fulfilling prophecies. If a person or group believes a thing to be true and operates, as though it were true, often it becomes true. This has been proven often in education and other fields. If a leader takes a positive stance, it will be more popular and the desired action is more likely to occur. A motto that always holds true is that: “Pessimism breeds negativity. Optimism breeds opportunity.” Everybody wants to work with people who lift them up into the clouds instead of dragging them down into the mud. A leader makes sure seek out the positives in their people, helping them overcome their own feelings of self-doubt and spreading optimism throughout their organization.
Goals: All the good leaders are pretty clear in their head on what they want to achieve and where they want to reach. Of course all of them are visionaries but the ones that have clear plan of action and set of goals defined are the ones that stand out. Many a times, it has been seen that leaders who can’t match with action what they preach are the ones who turn out to be ineffective. A leader must be knowledgeable about his or her goals and means for reaching the goals. An effective leader must be both organized and prepared. Many leaders have opened their mouths and inserted their foot and suddenly found that they were no longer regarded as leaders. A more modern folk saying is that “you should not have your mouth in gear while your mind is in neutral.” Great leaders are outstanding atStrategic planners and goal setters. They have the ability to look ahead, to anticipate with some accuracy where the industry and the markets are going. Leaders have the ability to anticipate trends, well in advance of their competitors and set goals accordingly.
Decisiveness: Goals without action/execution or without decisiveness is like having a great looking car without an engine. All the goals, plans and visions amount to nothing if they are not executed or put into action. Decisiveness is easy to understand but sometimes difficult to achieve. Some of us are inherently decisive, and some of us are not. But regardless of your personality, decisiveness is an important part of leadership. Especially in environments of fear and intense change, it feels unsafe to commit to a decision and move ahead. Avoid the crutch of ‘analysis paralysis’ and make the decision. Forward movement is always better than being stuck in place. One good thing about decisiveness is that it can be learned and honed over time. Leaders who don’t take action on their goals and who aren’t decisive and who can’t make a decision will spin their organization into a frozen state where employees are unmotivated, wasting time, and discouraged. Passion, Drive, Vision, and Salesmanship, these are all important leadership traits, but without the proven ability to execute, they are just gravy. Successful leaders must cultivate the ability to execute. To do so, focus your time and energy on doing the right things at the right times — and get the job done.
Learning – A Leader is always learning and I am not only talking about academic learnings. A leader learns from his employees, from his competitors and from his mistakes. Wisdom is priceless. When you get on a learning path, it is the best time of your life. Every day means something; every lesson provides the clarity you clamor for. You move forward, evolve, grow, and become more fulfilled as the big picture, the dream even, emerges from the shadows and into the light. A leader should first and foremost remain a learner. When a leader is constantly working on himself, he sets an example for the people who follow him.
Communication: This word can’t be overstated. There is a reason why Communication ranks so high as the most important trait when it comes to leadership skills. This word differentiates a good leader from a bad leader. This word may very well be the difference between the Goals and it execution. A leader can have a good vision, a great plan and an awesome team but all these things boils to nothing unless the leader is able to communicate his vision and inspire his team to act on his vision and goals. Communication should not be confused with just being a good speaker; it is much more than that. A good leader is one who can fit his message according to the audience. Large words and complex sentences will not work with people of limited formal education. Writing or speaking in technical terms may help in a few instances, but writing or speaking in clear simple terms helps in almost all cases. The ability to listen, read body language, ask questions, provide feedback, and generate effective two-way communication builds trust and can prevent performance problems down the road. In addition, the ability to comfortably use a variety of communication styles in order to articulate goals and objectives paves the way for healthy working relationships at every level.
Persistence: Great leaders are persistent. Period. Persistence is one of the key characteristics of great leaders. Gaining it requires determination and a mindset that — no matter what happens — you will stick to your principles and goals. There are ample examples of talented men not fulfilling their potential; there are numerous examples where geniuses are left unrewarded. The reason being they all lacked Persistence. Former U.S. President Calvin Coolidge once said: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
Charisma: Charisma is the most debated word when it comes to leadership. There is a great deal of controversy about whether charisma is made or born with, and if charismatic leaders are actually effective. If we look into history and look at all the great leaders we will find that apart from having all the traits that are mentioned above they all had certain effusive quality that made them stand out, that made their followers follow, that made them connect to their followers at a deeper, emotional level. Charismatic leaders have style, personality and confidence. True charisma is a measure of a person’s maturity and character. Charismatic leaders recognize that leadership is not about showmanship, but the application of wisdom built over years of experience. Charisma is not a single trait; it is a mixture of lots of words: Communication, Confidence, and Ability to Focus, Ability to Analyze, Maturity, and Humility etc.
Do you think that I have covered all the traits that make a good leader? I would love to get your views on this and would like to improve on this blog based on your suggestions. Feel free to comment.