What are the core attributes of a great leader? Are these leadership attributes inborn and ingrained? Or can one cultivate such leadership skills and competencies over time? Given a large number of characteristics of a great leader, which ones should I prioritize?
All good questions and we have answers for you to emerge from being a good leader and grow into a great leader.
As you grow in the managerial ranks and reach the higher echelons of corporate leadership, you will notice leaders of various stripes and what makes them tick. As it will be evident from the model leaders in your organization or elsewhere in the industry, it is different strokes for different people.
Some leaders exude a natural charisma and attract a large group of followers. Others may show boldness and courage in the face of insurmountable obstacles and lead by example. Yet others, quiet and calm in demeanor, may lead by empathy and compassion.
While some leaders are born, and most are made, there is always an inner core in each one of us. We cannot run contrary to this core and portray a different self. It would be a pretender and not your true self. Of course, one can make some changes and smoothen rough edges with hard work and perseverance over time.
And in addition to the inner core, you may also add a couple of additional competencies to round out your personality and emerge as a great leader.
Here are a set of Six Top Attributes of a Great Leader:
- Cultivating Others
Empathy is the innate ability to look at things from the frame of reference of others and gain an in-depth understanding based on the context and circumstances.
Empathy is an essential leadership characteristic, and it builds confidence among the ranks that their boss understands, not just the what, but the underlying why. Empathy can also be extremely valuable in personal and social spheres, not just the corporate ladder.
Daniel Goleman (of Emotional Quotient fame) talks about three types of empathy, and mastering all three will catapult you to the next level of leadership greatness.
Showing empathy can take many shapes, forms, and expressions, but at a foundational level, it involves active listening, contextualization, and appreciation of the underlying factors.
While some people are born with empathy, most cultivate empathy with rigorous practice and mindful listening with a desire to understand and appreciate the other side and walk in their shoes.
Intelligence, at its core, is an ability to understand, analyze, synthesize, and rationalize facts, patterns, people, and events. It is an abstraction of several underlying competencies ranging from the ability to grasp to the ability to decompose and deconstruct, to the ability to synthesize disparate pieces of data and use that body of knowledge to make decisions.
Psychologists talk about several types of intelligence, and Howard Gardner proposed eight types of intelligence:
Broadly, without dissecting intelligence into so many categories, we can focus on “Emotional Intelligence” and “Intellect” as two facets of intelligence relevant to corporate leadership.
Great leaders manifest intelligence in many ways, and in conjunction with the other attributes, it stands out as a fundamental leadership pillar.
Respect goes hand-in-hand with empathy, and it is the essence of making each person feel unique and special. Respecting others involves a broad range of things – from appearance, language, backgrounds, religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, and creed.
Respect transcends mere tolerance and is a higher-order competence that allows a leader to showcase their regard for each person – with all their traits, features, vicissitudes, and attitudes.
Respect also means not tolerating behavior that is contrary to social, moral, and philosophical standards.
So, admiring someone is a sign of respect, dissuading someone from passing snide comments on someone else’s back is also a sign of respect. You may be “respectful” to a fellow employee. Still, if you tolerate vulgar comments about their appearance or gender preference or sexual orientation, you are not true to the spirit of respect.
Leaders tend to foster a climate of respect, and this becomes a foundational pillar of a company’s culture.
Courage is the internal fortitude to do the right thing even if no one is looking and irrespective of the obstacles and odds.
Courage is not just the absence of fear. Courage in the corporate setting is making the tough decisions and the choices that are not the easiest.
Great leaders show courage, particularly in times of distress, and withstand the doubting Thomases and stand tall to make the tough call and see it through.
Courage in leaders also manifests as not avoiding challenging to solve issues and avoid unpleasant situations.
Of course, courage also means accepting their mistakes and acknowledging when they are wrong and course correct without pride coming in the way.
A great leader makes others great and cultivates many other leaders. Developing others is a hallmark that differentiates merely good leaders and the great ones.
Cultivating and grooming others is an everyday task and involves many small acts and steps over a long time.
Raising other leaders is not just about a pat on the back or motivational speeches. It involves acknowledgment of wins, commiseration of losses, a shoulder to lean on, a kind work in times of distress, assigning opportunities that test the mettle, and mentoring on an as-needed basis without judgment.
Great leaders also focus on nurturing and promoting leadership diversity.
Successful companies led by great leaders foster a significant pipeline of other contenders. Of course, some of these contenders may move on from the company in search of greener pastures, but they will carry long the core DNA everywhere.
ABC – Always Be Communicating.
Leaders know how to communicate, and great leaders excel at it. Communication is not just speeches or company annual reports.
From water cooler conversations to meetings, from emails to video recordings, from industry events to analyst meetings, leaders have the inherent skill to say the right thing at the right time – concisely and coherently.
Communication transcends just good news or sharing positive vibes. Communicating difficult choices and decisions, troubles, and bad news are also essential.
Some leaders are natural orators, and words flow smoothly. But others have to cultivate the ability to communicate.
Communication is about authenticity, directness, and lack of ambiguity.
If you wish to become a great leader, start practicing speaking and writing from the heart and in words that others can understand and get inspired.
Of course, there are many other leadership competencies – from Integrity to Interpersonal Skills, from Fortitude to Folksiness, from creativity to confidence.
But our goal is not to list all the competencies and soft skills of a leader. It is to highlight the core attributes of a great leader.
What are your core competencies and attributes? What qualities and characteristics are you working towards in your quest to become a great leader?