There are many people in leadership roles. Look around, you’ll see them everywhere. Your first boss. Your child’s teacher. The manager of your favorite grocery store. The pastor of your church, the Mayor of your hometown, maybe even staring back at you in the mirror. But being in a position of leadership doesn’t automatically make you a leader. As Simon Sinek says, there are leaders and there are those who lead.
As an entrepreneur, coach, former Global COO, and Mom, I have been, and continue to be in the role of leader. It’s something that has called me since I was young. If you know me, you know it’s hardwired into my personality. Being in this role for so many years has caused me to think a lot about what makes a great leader. What is the difference between those who lead, and a leader in name only?
Asking this question, of myself, and of my clients again and again has encouraged growth. It has helped me to better serve and inspire others, which I personally feel to be my greatest duty as a woman who leads. The following are some qualities that I believe are key if you want to lead others in a meaningful, sustainable, and ethical way. Here are 10 characteristics of a great leader:
1. Skilled Communicator
The old saying “say what you mean, mean what you say” is key here! Communicate clearly, honestly, and with respect. Be kind, but be firm. Seek connection through communication. Communication goes both ways. LISTEN. The goal is to empower and motivate others through your communication, not dominate, trick, or manipulate. You are leading. Your communication style, or lack thereof, will set the tone for your entire team.
2. Has Integrity
Do what you say you are going to do, even when nobody’s looking. This is what integrity means to me. Being a person of your word, leading by example (UGH. I hear my dad’s voice in my head saying “do as I say not as I do”.) Altruism, candor, just a stand up human being who makes good choices and does good by others. Integrity is also about being true to yourself. Be who you are, no matter where you are. You are who you are at the front and at the back of the room. Integrity is a sure way to build trust.
3. Empowers Others
It’s not about you. It’s about them. – Clint Eastwood
Are you really leading people? Are you running over people to move forward, or are you helping bring everyone forward? I think this is an excellent question to ask yourself as a leader.
One of my favorite African Proverbs is “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” The key word here is together – with others. Know when to build someone up, recognize them for their efforts and support them when needed.
Be aware of the effect you have on others. Do your actions uplift, inspire, and motivate those around you? Or are you in competition with them, or putting them down? Or even worse, are you using them, to get what you want? The way you behave and treat your team makes the difference between people following you because they have to, or working with you because they want to – because you excite them and ignite their zest for life.
I’ve found that there’s also a degree of vulnerability involved here. The more authentic and honest I am about my own struggles, the more I am able to inspire others. It’s about identifying. People need to be able to find themselves in your story.
4. Takes Responsibility
When shit hits the fan, take responsibility and do not pass the buck to your team. When things go wrong, be the first to step in and work with your team to figure out a solution and/or make amends. When things go right, remember you are part of a team, there are people around you helping you accomplish this.
I recently heard a story about a basketball player that makes a great example. When this player’s team lost a game, he criticized, pointed out the faults of others, and did not take responsibility for the whole, or look at his part. When they won, sometimes he would recognize the team, but mostly he liked the spotlight and took the fame in.
I am a HUGE advocate of looking within first! Take responsibility for all the parts and then figure out how to move forward. Remember when you are pointing your finger there are three pointing back at ya!
5. Be Humble
This trait goes hand in hand with taking responsibility. Humility can often get a bad rap in our society. Yet it’s something that I find very attractive in people, especially leaders. Humility is cutting your ego down to size. Just because you are leading people, that doesn’t make you better than them, smarter than them, or more worthy than they are. In fact, your team, the people that support you and work alongside you are who make you great. Keep your ears, eyes, and mind open. You never know where, or from whom the next great idea or solution is going to come from.
As a leader, you absolutely need to be able to make decisions. Learning discernment, separating emotions from facts, consistency, not being reactive, and looking at the whole picture (cause and effect) are all valuable qualities in making hard decisions. So is a good intuition, or gut instinct. Bonus points if you’re able to do it with speed. When you’re leading, situations tend to arise quickly and require a response on the fly.
For sustainability, this is a key characteristic. People should want to be around you, should feel like they belong, feel a part of your vision. This is a key factor in how you inspire people to take action. However, charisma can’t be a substitute for other extremely important traits. Leaders with charisma and nothing else tend to be narcissists and at worst, dictators. I can think of a few from history but I’m not going to name any names here.
Have a heart for people! Lead people because you love them, because you feel for them. Be sensitive and passionate. Consider the feelings of others. Be human. Empathy is a strength, not a weakness. But it is different from codependency and people pleasing. I think leaders in high stress positions can sometimes get cut off or disconnected from humanity, or emotionally isolated from their team. Empathy fosters connection and you need connection to lead.
Be flexible with the times. Don’t shy away from change. Growth and getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing. Things don’t always go our way and learning to duck and weave and go with the flow is an artform. Man! I learned this by raising 3 kids less than 2 years apart. My kids helped me to become a “recovering perfectionist”. I had to be agile in order to relate to where they were, to best guide them in their journey. Rigid, stagnant people can get stuck and overwhelmed in their everyday lives. It takes too much energy.
10. Has a BIG Vision
A powerful, big-picture vision attracts people and guides you in the good times and bad. It is the foundation of sustainable leadership and a motivator and unifier when it comes to your team. People will work for money, but they will give their all to a vision and mission that they truly believe in. Great leaders keep the flame of their vision burning bright.
Need more help with leadership? Take my Coaching Skills Workshop. I’ve custom designed this unique professional and personal development course which combines emotional intelligence, communication skills, relationship building, and more, based on my experience coaching for the last 10+ years. Learn to better understand yourself and others, in order to achieve incredible results with your team.