“We need leaders who add value to the people and the organization they lead; who work for the benefit of others and not just for their own personal gain. Leaders who inspire and motivate, not intimidate and manipulate; who live with people to know their problems in order to solve them and who follow a moral compass that points in the right directions regardless of the trends.”
Mary Kay Ash
There is an abundance of blogs out there listing the characteristics a leader must have, many of these cover common traits such as trust, empathy, communication, humility, self-awareness. These are important but I see then as entry level qualities for a leader. Great leaders should excel at the foundational qualities while also having something extra that makes them stand out and be someone who people want to follow.
Below are 5 qualities that make that extra difference.
#1. Caring Heart
“Leaders who have heart will also have the hearts for those they lead”
- Want the best for the people around you, that could in or outside of the company
- Actively listen, give people your attention and care what they have to say
- Treat others with how you wanted to be treated
- Be a role model and live by the expectations you set
- Give people the credit and recognition they deserve
- Minimise unconscious biases
- Desire to improve yourself for the benefit of others
Much more could be listed here! I believe it’s a caring heart that sets strong leaders apart. Throughout my career, I find it demoralising working with people who are self-seeking, they suck all the energy out of a room. I often hear people say putting others first won’t get you to the top, you need to be somewhat ‘ruthless’. I believe you can be caring but also bold in making decisions not everyone will agree with, these are not mutually exclusive. To care for people and the future of your company you have to make difficult decisions.
I’ve seen that putting others first engages individuals and teams, so much can be achieved when people feel safe and part of something meaningful. To a great extent, it’s a leader who cares that wants a safe environment where people believe in the mission of the company and strives to make it happen.
“Authentic Leaders are not afraid to show their emotions, their vulnerability, or connect with their employees.”
- Stay true to yourself and allow people to know you as a person
- Consistent approach, not putting on acts for different people
- Be open and honest when wrong
- Not afraid of showing your own vulnerability
- Take your work seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously
Leaders who show their human side are able to build stronger relationships with those they interact with. It ties back to having a caring heart, treating others how they want to be treated and being a role model means being comfortable with who you are. If people see it’s an act or being two-faced then their respect for you can be easily lost. Be serious about your work but less so about yourself, show you can take a joke and have fun!
The reality is leaders cannot please everyone and some relationships may be like chalk and cheese but that doesn’t mean you should hide who you are. Even when people disagree, as long as the reasons are clear and decisions are made with the right intentions the majority of people will accept that. Being authentic goes a long way in influencing and motivating people to be involved on the journey the company is making.
“An unbending tree is easily broken.”
- Adapt to different situations, switching mindset and focus effectively
- Ability to work with different people across various levels
- Quickly understand the context in situations to act appropriately given the circumstances
- Awareness when to get deep into the details and when to stay in overview mode
Leaders who struggle with juggling complex situations will eventually break (or burnout). Work days are rarely quiet, leaders need the ability to work in different ways and contexts throughout the day. Having the versatility to switch contexts without slowing down those around you is an essential skill.
Urgent decisions and unexpected events will happen, having the versatility to manage multiple tasks while driving key discussions is a quality that makes leaders stand out.
#4. A Refined Instinct
“Instinct leads, logic does but follow.”
- Knowing when to change strategy
- Know what decisions to make and when
- Awareness to ask the right question at the right time
- Savvy hiring, getting the right people to grow your business
Wrong decisions and strategy can break companies, it can be crucial when certain decisions are made for both short and long term plans. Leaders let their instinct drive discussions. This doesn’t mean being rash in decision making or chasing after everything your gut says, it’s about knowing what are the right decisions and the ideal time to make them.
Instinct also plays off the people around you. Leaders are not necessarily making all the decisions alone but feeding from the people around them and then getting the right people together to take ideas further. Working with certain people for particular projects is part instinct, you believe certain individuals will make a positive difference over others. The other extreme can be disastrous on many levels with the wrong people on certain projects.
In our fast moving world, it’s the leaders with wise and refined instinct that make the difference for their companies.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
- Taking risks that may unsettle people
- Overcoming imposter syndrome
- Taking initiative with something not tried before
- Changing your own opinions/beliefs based on listening to others
- Having difficult conversations with people giving constructive feedback
- Saying “no” even when it might not be a popular choice
- Ability to step away or stop doing something that isn’t working
This is a vital quality! Fear can get a grip of us in many ways, it can cause hesitation with decisions or stress with worries over negative reactions. Great leaders are calm and show boldness in their approach to tackling problems. Courage is displayed by taking the lead in key decisions or leading people on a new path of discovery.
The saying, “we create our own luck” is fitting for courageous leaders. In a highly competitive world it’s courage that opens the door into uncharted territory and that isn’t afraid to disrupt industries. Even when the odds are stacked against or problems arise it’s the fortitude a great leader possesses to be aware of the possibilities, learn as they move forward, and navigate the path to success for their teams and organisation.
These 5 qualities I believe great leaders have that allows them to succeed in a busy and hectic world. In all of the noise, using these qualities, they not only keep the ship going but steer it through dangerous waters while empowering and inspiring those around them. In the coming years, leaders who stand out will be the ones who embrace the pressures of competition while finding the edge for their organisation to stand out in the never ending game of disruption.