We know great leaders forge new industries, build great companies and advance social change. But how? One thing for certain, great leaders are aware of their own style. They know their skill set, have the courage to step forward and the drive to reach their goal. They also have keen insight into their team and understand how their personal style comes across and impacts that team.
A lot of people get trapped in the idea that they are nothing more than ordinary. But true leaders come in every shape and size and have little to do with a position or title.
“Leadership is a journey of discovery. It is the expression of a person at his or her best whose aim is to transform something for better and to develop this potential in others.” writes Hilary Owen (USATODAY.com) “It is not a solitary pursuit but one that harnesses the energy of those around you.”
7 Traits of a great leader (here are 7, though there are many more)
- Great Leaders start with why
Recent studies show that 70% of the American workforce are disengaged from their work. So, what’s missing? Simon Sinek, author of global best-seller Start with Why explains that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Whether you’re starting a social movement or building a great company, you need followers.
Great leaders are connected to their “Why”. It is the fuel that drives them in everything they do. You cannot begin to lead without an understanding of who you are. Leaders know who they are and what they believe. This is the foundation of strong character, purpose, and authenticity.
” Until you truly know yourself, strengths and weaknesses, know what you want to do and why you want to do it, you cannot succeed in any but the most superficial sense of the word” —James Kouzes and Barry Posner, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It
- Great Leaders empower others
A great leader must first become a good servant. A leader’s job, first and foremost, is to help and guide other people to achieve what they want to achieve. Great leaders do not see their employees as inferior. On the contrary, great leaders want to raise up more leaders. Developing a capable and effective team driven for whatever cause a leader is working toward is a great leader’s top challenge and priority.
“The leader is one who mobilizes others toward a goal shared by leaders and followers. … Leaders, followers and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership.” — Gary Wills, Certain Trumpets: The Call of Leaders
- Great Leaders focus on solutions, not problems
What separates great leaders from the rest is their ability to focus on solutions, rather than problems when the pressure is on. No matter how hard you try to avoid it, problems and failures will happen. Great leaders take them in stride. They calm the waters, boost morale and push through. They can rally the troops, think through a new or different approach and utilize their resources.
“Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast.” — Tom Peters
- Great Leaders think outside the box
Great leaders challenge the status quo. No matter what others say, they believe the records and statistics, can be broken. They disrupt the natural order of things to find new and better ways of doing things. Great leaders achieve great things because they’re willing to ask questions, be critical and create change where it’s needed. Great leadership is about redefining things, finding new solutions and leading others to bigger and better things. Leadership is about bringing progress and provoking change, none of which can be done from inside the margins of the status quo.
“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” — Albert Einstein
- Great Leaders communicate effectively
Leadership and effective communication go hand in hand. Great leaders spend most of their time in interaction with other people, whether it’s clients, employees or peers. A leader who wants to be influential needs the ability to communicate effectively. This is
far more complex than it sounds. Leaders need to be able to communicate clearly with the people around them. They also must be able to interpret other people accurately. In this same arena fall the giving and receiving of feedback.
“Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others. If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter.”
— Gilbert Amelio, President and CEO of National Semiconductor Corp
- Great Leaders know their team.
Great leaders generate enthusiasm for the work they do. Their positivity is contagious and it shows on the quality of their team’s job. Great leaders know each and every member of their team. They are approachable, personable and know the skillset of the individual team member when delegating duties. The great leader sets their team up for success.
“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” — Theodore Roosevelt
- Great Leaders lead for a cause, not a promotion.
A great leader focuses their time and energy first to the cause, then to their team and lastly to him or herself. Leadership often comes with power and even prestige. However, the defining characteristics of leadership fall to integrity, character, initiative, etc. If your motivation within a project or within your company is only for self-benefit, it will show in the performance of your team and reflect in the overall outcome. Once a goal is reached, it’s easy for the credit to go to the team leader. Bad leaders step into the spotlight and take credit for the end results. A great leader highlights the work of the team and uses “we” way more than “I”.
“Trust men and they will be true to you: treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson