The Key Qualities of Leaders
By Lee Duncan
Leadership can be described as the process of engaging and including others for the achievement of a specific goal or aim. Be aware that leadership does not always need to go hand in hand with management, but for the vast majority of businesses, you can't afford a separate leader from your managers.
Indhira Gandhi said that "leadership at one time meant muscles but today it means getting along with people", and there is a great deal of truth to that, although more is required - as a leader you need to inspire and motivate your staff to deliver more together than they would alone. A leader without management skills is likely to become frustrated quickly - they'll know what they want, but be unable to co-ordinate activities to deliver it! Some key qualities for leaders are integrity, honesty, humility, courage, commitment, sincerity, passion, confidence, positivity, wisdom, determination, compassion, sensitivity, and a degree of personal charisma. As the leader you will have to make ethical and value judgements, alongside the technical and business decisions that come with management. It's not just about having your name printed with "CEO" or "Managing Director" next to it - you have to walk the talk.
The reason for this is that leaders who can demonstrate persistence, determination and consistency will bring out the same qualities in their teams. On the other hand if you demonstrate inconsistency, a lack of integrity and a hap-hazard approach to work, your team will follow your lead in that, too.
Flip Flippen's Personal Constraint Theory says that every leader is the cap that limits the performance of his organisation. If you are disappointed in the way your business is performing, look in the mirror - you have a leadership problem. Want to blame your staff for doing everything wrong? Ask yourself who hired them, trained them, built the systems and processes they use, and who ultimately manages them. The finger is pointing at you, not them! If you doubt this, I strongly recommend reading Flip's "The Flipside" book, which will tell you a great deal about improving yourself to improve your life.
It's not just your position that gives you authority as a leader, it's also the quality of the relationships that you build with your team. You see, as a leader you get your authority as one side of an exchange, but if you fail to deliver the goods and don't live up to your staff's expectations, they will reward you by performing like drunken slugs.
Leaders who take the time to develop a powerful vision for the business with their teams have the upper hand over their competition, because they'll follow you until the ends of the earth, working longer hours for less pay and with a passion that cannot be bought with mere money. A strong leader will be followed into the trenches by his people, because he understands that leadership is about being the best and showing that taking the high road is what sets the tone for the rest of his team. Winston Churchill in his leadership of the British during the bombings of the Second World War was inspirational. Who could not have felt excited, honoured and even privileged to be on Winston's team.
In the same way, Apple has Steve Jobs, the charismatic and visionary leader who understands what it means to be Apple. He has effectively created and policed a set of core values that define exactly what the company is. As a consequence of the creative environment that he's created, the business reinvented itself and delivered the iMac, the iPod and now the iPhone. People wondered whether or not the iPhone would catch on, but of course we now know that Jobs' ability to deliver products that people simply adore, a kind of product leadership, is unimpeachable.
On the other side of the fence you've got Microsoft and Bill Gates, a man once described as "paranoid" I believe, in that he would never rest on his laurels, always wary that Microsoft could become the victim of another upstart company, just like Microsoft over-hauled IBM, which suffered from a lack of real leadership for many years.
Now while you're wondering how to develop yourself to have these qualities, start to think a little deeper. Think what happens when you don't want to work anymore - who will be your company's leader then? How are you going to grow these people to help you? That's where business coaching can come in - to either mentor you in growing your staff, or to coach your talent directly for you and help them to grow to replace you. Whichever way you go, don't make the mistake that so many make - if you like the feeling of being indispensable to your own business, you're building a trap for yourself, too.
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