Let me begin today’s post by saying that in my opinion, the perfect leader has yet to be born – and I have studied most of the significant leaders in history.
I also took on my first “leadership” role at the tender age of eight, so you can assume that “leading from the front” has been a major feature of my commercial life.
The reality is that we all have room for self-improvement, but if at least we can agree upon what it takes to be a good leader – what are the traits of leadership; what are the skills – we will at least have made a good start. We should analyse every genuine leader we know and try to learn which qualities influenced us to consider them a good leader. We can probably agree upon at least six – these are mine – and you may well have a leader in mind as we consider these?
Everyone should agree that enthusiasm for what one is doing is a critical leadership trait. No man or woman can install much enthusiasm in anyone else for something about which they themselves are not enthusiastic. Genuine enthusiasm does not mean a glib, backslapping, plastic smile type attitude. More often, the genuine leader’s enthusiasm is likely to be of a more quiet nature – but it is there! It is shown by the manner in which they go about their work. Their manner of handling their job seems to say to everyone. “This is important! It must be done right. It must be fairly and squarely done! And - you can do it!”
Unless a person feels right down in their bones that the work they are doing is worthwhile, they can never consistently (day in and day out) act as though they do. So, if they have any feelings or doubt about the importance of their work and cannot become enthusiastic about it, the trouble is in the person himself or herself. Whether they realise it or not, those around them sense their feelings, their attitude is showing!
Leadership takes “guts.” The true leader has the ability to “take it” when the going gets rough. Often the leader has to “take it” for the whole organisation to keep morale high. The leader has to face up to new challenges all the time. Indeed, many successful leaders invite difficulties just for the sheer joy of coping with them. The genuine leader approaches each day with a sort of “joy of battle”.
Courage in leadership sometimes takes unexpected forms; it may mean standing up for a principle. (Has anyone ever known a real leader who was a “yes person”?) It means having the character to stand up for what you believe in without comprising or cutting corners.
It may mean taking a bold approach to a new idea – sticking your neck out in support of something which you think is worth trying. It means loyalty to your convictions.
Another important requirement for the leader of today is self-confidence. However, in making decisions about people, their motivation and the way they act or react, the leader can never feel completely sure they are right. The best they can do is to make a sort of “educated guess” based on the facts they can assemble and then rely upon their past experience and knowledge to interpret them.
A great help is to know and work within their personal assets and limitations. They know what they can personally do and what they are unable to do. They are willing to listen to other opinions, assess them and be big enough to adopt the meritorious ones even if they do not square with their original thinking. They can take small reverses in stride.
A self-confident leader is never satisfied with their present accomplishments; does not spend their time in useless longing for things they cannot have. Rather, they set about realising their immediate and realistic goals.
A leader keeps promises: They keep their promises to their associates as meticulously as those made to their superiors. They keep promises made to themselves, which are the hardest to keep and failure in this is the easiest to rationalise. They can keep all these promises because they never commit themselves rashly; but always within the limits of reality and their present capabilities in terms of personal ability.
Part of this matter of integrity is certainly, unquestioned loyalty to their organisation – to its reputation as well as their own. Also they must have loyalty to their products and to their associates and loyalty to their industry. Loyalty to one’s associates is extremely important in any leader. They should never allow themselves or others in their group to ridicule, or down grade other leaders or people in the industry, as it is a sign of jealousy and this is one trait that cannot exist in a true leader. Part of this loyalty is a sense of stewardship – a feeling of responsibility for the welfare, progress and security of the industry as a whole, and that includes everybody who ethically runs a business, everyone in their organisation, their customers and their family.
Even the Oxford Dictionary has difficulty in defining the meaning of the word “friendliness”. Of “friendliness” it says, “it signifies befitting or worthy of a friend.”
A leader has a genuine and sympathetic interest in and a respect for people as individuals. A very high percentage of any leader’s day is spent working directly with individuals.
Be careful – do not go overboard. Here there could be a danger signal. Friendliness can, of course, be overdone. Although interested and sympathetic, the true leader stays firm – never getting so involved in the personal lives of people that he forgets the implications of their role as a leader. They never play favourites – and should never play one personality against another. They know where to draw the line.
Whilst not advocating that a leader be the ‘life and soul of the party’, it is essential that they have a keen sense of humour. There will be times when an appropriate joke or light hearted remark, will do more to relax and motivate than all the arranging in the world.
These then are the six basic characteristics which help a person to become a successful leader. Think of others. Upon reflection, you will probably agree that your ideas are closely allied to or even a part of the six detailed here.
They are not by any means a guaranteed panacea that will assure success as a leader. Though all leaders possess them to a varying degree, all of us have known people who have had them all, but were still unsuccessful as leaders. Characteristics or traits by themselves do not make leaders, certain “core skills” are equally necessary.
Jonathan Farrington is a globally recognized business coach, mentor, author, keynote speaker and sales thought leader. He is the Senior Partner of Jonathan Farrington & Associates, and CEO of Top Sales World, based in London & Paris. Jonathan is also the co-editor of Top Sales Magazine.