What makes a great leader? There are many blogs and articles that address this question. Ask ten people this question and you’re likely to get ten different responses. For example, John Maxwell is famous for saying that leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less. One organization summarized the obligations for their leaders to be developing people, achieving results and creating a high performing work environment.
In this presidential election year, what attributes will voters find most important when they vote for the leader that will represent this country? Some people may focus more on results, while others may focus more on character.
I asked a number of leaders in the organization where I work what they thought were the attributes of a great leader and got a number of responses. Below are some of the attributes that were shared with me, some of which overlap:
- Asking great questions
- Motivator, energizer
- Embracing diversity
- Open to feedback
- Seeks counsel from others
- Leads by example
- Belief in their people
- Engages others
- Mentor – develops other leaders
- Values diverse opinions (open-minded)
- Problem solver
- Creates a culture of trust
- Addresses life issues
- Selfless – thinks of others first
- Thinks long-term
With so many excellent attributes, it was hard to come up with just a few. Here are my top ten, some of which overlap:
- Vision. Andy Stanley has written that vision is a clear mental picture of what could be, fueled by the conviction that it should be. We need our leaders to present to us the vision of where our organizations are headed. Stanley goes on to state that it is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that those within their organization understand and embrace the vision of the organization.
- Influence. I mentioned the famous quote on influence from Maxwell above. In his Law of Influence, he states that if you can’t influence people, then they will not follow you. And if people won’t follow, you are not a leader.
- Humility. As we look at our presidential candidates, I don’t know if humility is an attribute that would come to mind in describing either one of them. But Jim Collins, in his classic book Good to Great, writes about leaders who have what he refers to as personal humility and professional will. His term “level 5 leader” refers to individuals who are very humble on a personal level, but who possess a great deal of drive and desire to succeed, where “success” is not personal, but defined by creating something great that will outlast their time as the organization’s leader.
- Servanthood. I am a big proponent of servant leadership, having written about it here. In that article I state that Ken Blanchard has written that effective leaders should serve their people, not be served by them, which is different than the norm. Similarly, John Maxwell states that the leader should be there for their people, not the people there for the leader. This is what is referred to as servant leadership. Maxwell tells us that the measure of a leader is not the number of people who serve him but the number of people he serves.
- Character. Years ago I heard someone describe character as doing the right thing when nobody is watching. Character is closely related to trust and integrity. Stephen M.R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust, has compared leaders that have competency vs. character. Of course we would like our leaders to have both attributes.
- Competency – experience, results, proven track record. We want to know that our leaders have what it takes to lead us. This helps build trust in the leader.
- Caring and empathy. John Maxwell has said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This attribute is related to being a servant leader. What a difference it makes when we know that our leaders care for us.
- Learner. Whenever we go to a new doctor, my wife checks to see if they are board certified. If they are, that communicates to her that they have stayed current in their education, and continued to learn in their field. It’s the same thing with leaders. Leaders need to continue to learn through a variety of means (books, seminars, conferences or webinars, mentors, etc.). If you don’t continue to learn, you will not be an effective leader.
- Communicator. A leader needs to have excellent verbal and written communications skills. On top of that, they need to be a connector. John Maxwell, who had a book titled Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, has said that all good leaders are connectors. They relate well and make people feel confident about themselves and their leader. I work with a connector. He seems to be able to instantly connect with everyone he meets. It’s really amazing.
- Listener. Great leaders are great listeners. But most leaders need to talk less and listen more. We can gain knowledge, wisdom and empathy not from talking but from listening. I know that this is an area I can really improve in.
Those are my top ten attributes of a great leader. Which would make your top ten?
September 12, 2016 at 7:00 am
Thanks, Bill. I feel encouraged!