Just think for a moment…
What are the characteristics of a leader?
Who do you consider to be a good leader?
Is it the person who helps you through tough times, fights for your best interests, gives you credit when you deserve it and shows you the way when you are confused or lost?
Or is it the person who is nowhere to be seen when times get tough, doesn’t care for your interests, takes all of the credit on your behalf and gives you orders but doesn’t help?
Seems easy to spot a good leader, right? If it is, then why don’t we have a society full of outstanding leaders? The reason is usually down to self awareness…
How often do you stop to reflect on your leadership style and how other’s perceive you? Negative internal talk often persuades us that we can’t be good leaders, but the fact is anyone can by just developing a few simple qualities.
The majority of these qualities are often not hard to develop as most of them are centred around caring for others and being a good human. You don’t have to belt out a historic speech to be a great leader. Some of the best leaders are subtle in their approach.
One thing is certain… Due to the rise of technology, people now have access to more information and more job opportunities than ever before, meaning that telling people what to do based on your rank is no longer an effective way of leading.
If people find themselves obeying rather than following, it’s easy for them to get up and leave.
So what makes a good leader?
Below are a few examples of individuals who study leadership and real life leaders. Traits that appear most often in research have been made bold so you can see the patterns as you work through. See if you can apply some of these in your life.
Is an absolute boss (no pun intended) when it comes to modern leadership techniques. His work is often simple and based around common sense; however, common sense is not that common nowadays. His anecdotes, observations and real-life case studies really do keep you attentive to his message which often centres around good character traits such as bravery, selflessness, calmness, empathy, being a good listener, and serving others.
He is a big advocate of the “others first” approach to leadership. His key works include:
Is another well renowned researcher and speaker on leadership. Like Sinek, she also attributes courage to great leadership, explaining that the earliest forms of the word “courage” meant ‘to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ She goes on to teach that courage is not just committing yourself to gallant deeds but to embrace vulnerability and open up about who you really are. Vulnerability derives from authenticity.
‘True to one’s own personality, spirit, or character – sincere and authentic with no pretensions.’
Brown goes further by suggesting great leaders are ‘willing to let go of who they should be in order to be who they are.’ Great leaders, like great people, are willing to show their vulnerabilities by investing in something that may not succeed, being criticised for something that they believe in or opening up about their true feelings.
Is a great leader because he chose to be one of the people. He resorted to a simple lifestyle that saw him poor and hungry, which resonated with millions throughout the country. They could see their own sufferings within him. During his rise to becoming a great leader, Gandhi has stuck to his values and still remains open and vulnerable about his beliefs and feelings.
He is an enchanting person in many ways and this is very much reflected in his leadership style. He didn’t give stirring speeches to arouse the masses and incite war. Quite the opposite. He sat in the slums, spoke of peace and made himself a simple, lovable character.
Gandhi was not born this way, his leadership skills developed over time. He was a rebellious, shy youth… Not perfect by any means. He drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes and ate meat… all activities strictly forbidden in his traditional Hindu family.
However, he transformed his character into one that people admired. He was calm, wise, devoted to his cause and extremely compassionate.
He also had a good sense of humour, another trait often shared by inspiring leaders.
Is not only considered a great leader and influencer in our society, his whole investing strategy is based upon backing outstanding management. For a man who is worth an estimated $77bn (30 June 2017), earned mainly from investing, I think he knows a thing or two about recognising good leaders.
Delivering a mastermind MBA graduation speech in 1998, Buffett offers students a proposition – the chance to purchase 10% of one of their classmate’s earnings for the rest of their lives (excluding the people with rich parents of course).
He also offers the chance to go short on one of their classmates (going short in the investing world is selling a stock now and repurchasing it at a later date – expecting the value of a stock to fall. Basically, who is going to fail?).
Just take a moment to think about who you would invest in.
Mr Buffett offered his welcome opinion…
For 10% of a classmate’s earnings – “will you give them an IQ test and pick the one with the highest IQ? I doubt it… You would probably pick the one you responded the best to, the one who has the leadership qualities, the one who is able to get other people to carry out their interests. That would be the person who is generous, honest and who gave credit to other people for their own ideas.”
For shorting a classmate – “you wouldn’t pick the person with the lowest IQ, you would think about the person who turned you off, the person who is egotistical, who is greedy, who cuts corners, who is slightly dishonest.”
This provides a key insight into not only great leaders but successful people per se. Successful people are most likely to be those who show good personality traits and put others first in order to achieve success.
Martin Luther King
Was another infamous leader that showed immense courage in the face of real danger. MLK was a master communicator, clearly painting a picture of his vision for a better future in his renowned ‘I have a dream’ speech.
Again, like Gandhi, he was considered as one of the people – a comrade who was not afraid to disrupt the status quo!
Is another great example of a truly inspirational leader. No matter where you are in the world, this man is respected. Why?
He had a vision, a dream. He stood for what was right and fought bravely, just like both MLK and Gandhi.
Similarly to MLK, Mandela was an exceptional communicator and was willing to die for his beliefs.
Nelson Mandela gave a three-hour speech now know as the ‘I am prepared to die’ speech from the defendants dock in 1964 where he was later sentenced to life in prison.
Key leadership traits
Although we have only visited a few individuals in the field of leadership, some key traits appear again and again. As an overview, lets take a look at the top 5 traits:
1. Courage and Bravery (including vulnerability and authenticity)
- Leaders are true to themselves and not afraid to present themselves to the world
- They are prepared to fight for what is right, no matter what the consequences
- They are happy to take risks for the benefit of the team
- They accept blame when things don’t go right and look to fix it
2. Thoughtfulness and Giving (including putting others first, honesty and generosity)
- Leaders put others first – they “eat last”
- They demonstrate empathy and compassion towards others
- They give without expecting anything in return
- They let go of their ego to help others in need
3. Devotion, commitment, passion and focus
- Great leaders find their “why”
- They devote their lives to their cause (mainly helping others)
- They make sacrifices (Gandhi lost the love of his son and Mandela sacrificed his freedom for others)
- They prioritise what is important to them and commit wholeheartedly
4. Calmness under pressure (including humour at times)
- Leaders have a calming presence on others
- They can control their feelings and emotions
- They don’t take themselves too seriously and have a healthy sense of humour
- All leaders go through tough times! That is when they need to stay calm and be at their best – ‘Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm’ – Publilius Syrus
5. Communication (verbal and non-verbal)
- Great leaders speak simply and honestly
- They believe in what they are saying, boosting their persuasiveness and influence
- Many communicate more powerfully with their actions rather than verbally
- They communicate as “one of the people” – They are the voice/representative of the people
So there you have it. A breakdown of traits from some of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen.
What are your opinions?
If you think we have missed any great leaders or traits that are worth mentioning please add them to the comments box below.