No one person is perfect. There are endless positive qualities that everyone can benefit from embracing. However, for personal development purposes, it is important to narrow our focus so that we can efficiently create improvements in our character.
In a business setting, there are certain qualities that we see time and time again in leaders that achieve the higher-level roles. More often than not, these qualities are supported by the spirit of cooperation instead of competition. Most people that reach the pinnacles of business success have done so while others in their organizations celebrate their accomplishments. Sure, there are cheaters and malicious people who manage to cut their way into the higher ranks as well, but this model of achieving “success” is not sustainable and rarely successful. Not to mention the deprivation of personal happiness that tends to happen along the way.
There’s no getting around it, to be a leader you must be good with people. A lot of leadership involves getting to know others directly around you on a deep level, one that involves their personal lives in addition to their professional ones. In this list, I want to outline some of the most reliable qualities for effective leadership. These are some of those repeated qualities that leaders frequently embody, qualities that professionals can feel confident focusing on.
1. Emotional Intelligence
At its heart, emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions while simultaneously understanding and responding appropriately to the emotions of others. By having a deep understanding of why you act or react, you allow yourself to make more informed, positive choices. It is a great tool in relationships to have the ability to see through an individual’s emotions or behavior to the factors that are causing them to behave that way. This insight allows you to take a bird’s eye view of your interaction with others. We believe that emotional intelligence is the biggest differentiator between a “good” and “great” leader. It is also oftentimes the #1 factor in leadership derailment.
When an employee approaches with a frustrated attitude, an emotionally intelligent leader takes a deeper look at what is causing their frustration. Perhaps the employee just went through an embarrassing situation or they may have recently been dealing with the loss of a family member. A leader with a lack of emotional intelligence may immediately become defensive and possibly dismiss the employee for a lack of respect. The emotionally intelligent leader immediately wants to sit down and have a deeper discussion that leads to a mutually positive outcome.
Emotional intelligence, like the rest of this list, is a skill. With a growth mindset, you enable yourself to broaden your capabilities from all perspectives.
When we think of integrity in regards to a personality trait, we immediately think of someone who is honest. Commonly you hear integrity meaning “you do the right thing even when you know no one is watching”, and who could disagree? That is exactly what an integrous person does. But you may also think of the integrity of a building and about the structure upon which it stands. Immediately, you may be concerned that the building’s integrity is susceptible to being compromised. A leader with integrity is whole, solid, and coherent, just like the integrity of a strong building. However, this leader’s integrity is susceptible to being compromised just like any other person or building. What makes a great leader’s integrity so strong and impressive is because it stands in direct contrast to a catastrophic tendency to fail. The fact their integrity remains strong in spite of its weak spots is that much more of a testament to how great they really are.
People are very different, we’re all unique in our own ways, but we are dramatically more similar than we are different. The temptations we undergo as individuals are not foreign to our peers. Most everyone has “been there” at one point or another. This is the reason we celebrate successful leaders who have lived a lifetime of commitment to honesty; we understand deeply how hard it is to live such a life. Beyond the difficulty, however, is simply a series of very easy steps if taken one at a time. A great leader’s commitment to honesty builds its strength over time, little by little, culminating in a well-founded structure worthy of being called integrous.
To aim at something is to see a target through a narrow lens.
“We only see what we aim at. The rest of the world (and that’s most of it) is hidden.” – Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life
A leader with an aim is a leader with a purpose and vision. A true aim is one that affects every part of your being and it is impossible to hide it from others. And that is certainly a good thing unless your aim is towards something malicious, in which case it is a bad thing for you but a great thing for the rest of us. Leaders want people to see what they’re all about. Great leaders thrive when their people fully understand their intentions.
The ability to inspire should not be your objective, even though it may be the ends to your means. The means are by creating a burning passion inside of yourself to achieve what you aim for. If that aim is righteous, others will flock to lift you toward it. Don’t be so cynical to assume that most people don’t want the best for you, it simply is not true. Most people want to see you succeed, especially so when you want the same for them and they buy-in to the cause of your vision.
Not surprisingly, this is perceived as one of the most difficult traits for leaders to develop. Not all great leaders come from a background of social affluence, and their idea of charisma is often portrayed as someone who is really smiley and physically attractive. A lot of these leaders are brought into a position of responsibility that they want to deserve, but they don’t know how to permit themselves to be a person that others can look up to. They feel that they have to skip a few steps because they’re different, and one of the skipped steps is building charisma.
To have charisma is to be attractive in your behavior. People are drawn to charismatic people, they can’t help but want them around. Smiling and being positive are great ways to make people prefer to be around you, but people will also get a quick sense when someone is not genuine.
So the goal we’ve outlined is to be charismatic and to be genuine about it. How? Well, the easiest way is to attach it to your aim. What I mean by that is you need to find ways to align your goals with the benefits of being positive and enthusiastic around your team. There is a large connection between your enthusiasm early in the morning and your drive to accomplish the vision you’ve outlined for yourself, your team, and your organization. If you personally do not buy-in to your own vision, you will never find genuine enthusiasm about working towards your objectives.
Accountable leaders know how to take ownership. They understand the responsibility involved in seeing something through to the end. They know how to prioritize, while not allowing smaller, necessary tasks to fall too far on the backburner. They know how to confront their procrastination on tasks they want to avoid and make sure they are done on time.
Beyond that, they understand that part of ownership includes effectively delegating responsibilities among a group. Too often a leader will introduce a project, delegate specific tasks, and sit back and wait for an update or a deliverable. Effective accountability on the leader’s side involves a balancing act between allowing the employee to take their own responsibility for the task and making sure that the employee knows they are there to support them in accomplishing the task. Too much responsibility and the employee may feel abandoned. Too much hand-holding and the employee may feel incompetent. To delegate effectively means to free-up time for the delegator, accomplish projects faster, and educate team members along the way.
A competent leader is good at what they do. It’s hard to have respect for a leader that doesn’t seem to know what they’re doing. Most people at some point have been in a position where they feel they’re being managed by someone incompetent. A good leader has spent the time to become an expert at the things that are necessary to understand before they agree to take command over a given area.
A competent leader also carries a wisdom and perspective that is unique to them. They have learned how to confidently display their wisdom in a way that develops credibility instead of resentment. They know the importance of being viewed as competent and fear the somewhat irreversible damage of being perceived as arrogant. Competent leaders are generally slow and sure in their behavior. They don’t feel the urge to rush into a decision and they are not afraid to be questioned. Their first reaction upon being questioned is not to assume that they are being challenged. They are not threatened by others who display competence, in fact, they encourage it. They lack the insecurity that harbors resentment for others when they do things well. A competent leader knows that they deserve what they’ve accomplished.
Being decisive requires a combination of intuition, problem-solving, initiative, risk-taking, and timing. A good leader has gained the experience necessary to formulate a healthy combination of these and they are all necessary. A leader with the ability to solve complex problems can be virtually useless if they lack the ability to take risks. A leader with the guts to take risks can make poor decisions quickly if they don’t understand timing.
Like most things in life, being decisive requires a delicate balance. Because of the nature of how large decisions can get and the impact they can have on an entire organization, this is an extremely important quality to develop. Decisions are permanent in a way. Although corrective actions can be taken to reverse them, the mistake, more often than not and even if it is a small decision, is very costly economically and culturally.
Sometimes the best option is to decide to cancel the project and do nothing, but it needs to be just that, a decision. It is important to not let things hang in the balance and to act upon the information at hand. There is a reasonable amount to deliberate and await new information, but deadlines are important and when they’re broken the lost credibility is hard to recover.
The ability to think outside the box. Creativity is such a subjective concept. People usually groan when they hear the word. Most businesses have nothing to do with art, why is creativity always thrown into the discussion? It’s because there are tangible, bottom-line benefits to having creative leadership. When someone tells a resilient person that, “It just can’t be done”, the resilient person will say, “Let’s get creative.” Creativity is the determination to find something that works better. It is a conscious effort to spend the time to think about different possibilities. In a business setting when someone says, “I’m not creative”, what they’re really saying is, “I just want to do my job and not think about it much more than that.” Creativity is a way for leaders to say, “I’m not lazy, and even when there’s downtime, I’m trying to solve problems.”
Self-discipline is the glue that holds together your character. It is the ability to efficiently overcome your weaknesses and thankfully, it can be trained. We can see the effects of incredible mental and physical self-discipline with professional athletes, monks, circus performers, professional fighters, philosophers, researchers, navy seals, etc. All of them have dedicated massive amounts of time towards very narrow goals through rigorous self-discipline.
Self-discipline doesn’t have to be militaristic, but it does have to be routine. Self-discipline can be trained, but it also operates off of momentum. Waking up late leads to a quick, unhealthy breakfast, which leads to a lousy day, which leads to a much needed 2 and a half hour unwind in front of the television when you get home. Obviously there is more at work here than just making the mistake of waking up late, but the point is that in one way or another, one bad decision makes a subsequent one more likely. This all can happen on an unconscious level too. Waking up early and making your bed is a statement to yourself that you want to set-up the rest of your day for hindsight that doesn’t include shame over the time you spent during the day.
As a leader, you embrace the routines involved in self or organizational progress. Things can take time and accepting this idea requires great self-discipline.
Reflect on the qualities in this list and create some reasonable goals for yourself. A useful idea is to write them down or keep a journal. Putting thoughts on paper will help solidify your intentions. In our leadership programs we emphasize that remembering the information is only the first step, the challenge is changing behavior. Write down your aim and ask yourself, are people going to rally to your passion? What does integrity mean to you? When was the last time someone commented on your positivity? Write thoughts like these down and return to them at least once a week. These qualities are already a part of us all, we just need to uncover how important they are.