Leadership: What Are the Characteristics of a Great
is leadership? What are the qualities and characteristics of a great leader?
Can anyone be a good leader? Let’s find out in this blog post!
What is leadership? What are the qualities and
characteristics of a great leader? Can anyone be a good leader? Let’s find out
in this blog post!
Like management or talent
development, leadership is one of those concepts that we have an inherent knack for
recognizing but have a tough time defining well.
Part of this is because great leaders don’t all lead the same way or have the same experience.
Some push their teams really hard, and others emphasize work-life balance
and employee experience. Some are much
more hands-on, while others delegate profusely.
Great leaders can be engineers
or salespeople, anyone from business school alumni to senior managers.
But none of those leaders just
started managing people and teams out of intuition. It’s an iterative process
where you try something, make mistakes, and then adjust your style. As Vince
Lombardi said, great
leaders aren’t born — they’re made.
So, from all of the great
leaders and managers that have paved the way, what can we learn about what
makes a great leader from their mistakes and successes? And what does
leadership really mean in today’s world?
Leadership isn’t about a word
in your title, a certain salary band, or any one specific characteristic like
charisma or extroversion. There are a lot of great definitions of
leadership out there, especially by
those who embody it.
In the Entrepreneur’s
article What Really Makes a Good Leader?,
the author, Travis Bradberry, shares a quote by Peter Drucker: “The only definition
of a leader is someone who has followers” as well as one by Bill Gates :”As we look ahead into
the next century, leaders will be those who empower others”.
And he also gives his
is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others toward
the achievement of a greater good.”
Another interesting quote on
what being a leader means is one from Dwight Eisenhower.
He said, “Leadership
is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he/she
wants to do it.” That sentence
encapsulates all the elements of what leadership is.
Leadership is an
art — which means there’s no right way to do it. Leadership is
an attitude, an intuition built
And because there are multiple
ways of getting to one outcome, you can be creative about it.
“someone else,” even if they don’t have to be direct reports or
people who have a financial or social obligation to do what you tell them to
There’s always a purpose, something that needs to get done. There’s a goal at the end, and
you and someone else are working together to achieve it. And finally, to
what John Maxwell said, “leadership is influence.” That’s the last piece of the puzzle in Eisenhower’s quote.
We’ve known for a long time
motivation is the strongest driver
Getting people to do things
(and having them go above and beyond) doesn’t come from authority or power. It
comes the ability to socially influence them — to show them why something is important or meaningful and light
a fire within them to contribute to that.
What Makes a Great Leader?
Even though there are many
styles of leadership, you can judge if one certain approach works or not by one
simple metric: is that leader getting the outcome he or she wants?
Specifically, it’s about the
purpose and the people: is the goal set
out by them being achieved, and are the people they’re leading happy as they
To do these, a great leader has
to be someone who can identify and strike the right balance between what are
usually two opposing ideas.
Here are what those balances look
1.Communicating top-down, but also bottom-up
Leaders have to be great
communicators. They have to talk to the
people they’re leading regularly and have a consistent message that resonates.
This is what creates alignment and trust between people.
also important when it comes to leadership. As Kate Pritchard, a
consultant specialized in leadership management and employee engagement, told
improve engagement, leaders need to demonstrate that they care about their
employees, to listen to them, involve them, and respond to their views”.
The feeling of collaboration is essential. Everyone wants to feel like they’re
contributing something, that they’re not just a cog in the wheel or a robot
Leaders create the space for
that kind of contribution and empower the people they
lead to accomplish that
through upward feedback. They have the
ability to make those people around them feel bigger and bolder. It’s about the
people they lead, not about themselves.
“It is about empowering employees to feel and think
like owners so that they remain motivated to create new opportunities. It is
also about establishing a kind of radical transparency in which voices across
the hierarchy can be heard. But all of this requires, in turn, the cultivation
of an open and trusting environment”.
2.Having strong convictions, but continuing to learn
Balancing communicating well
with taking in feedback goes hand in hand with having strong ideals while being
willing to put those head-to-head with new data points you’re taking in.
“Great leaders are not head-down. They see around
corners, shaping their future, not just reacting to it.”
There’s a great Quartz article that
talks about what makes a great leader, and they describe them with a few
different terms: intellectually
humble, opinionated adaptors, and flexible
Here’s an example of how
they’ve visualized opinionated adaptors so that it’s easy to see the balance a
leader is trying to strike:
3.Risk-taking, but not reckless
Because leaders have conviction around some idea or some insight into how
the world works, they’re willing to make bets on that.
In a TED talk by Rosalinde
Torres, a leadership expert from the management consulting firm BCG, she talks
about leadership in the 21st century as being defined by three questions,
distilled from a study of 4,000 companies and her 25 years of experience.
And her third question is
about being courageous and taking risks. Here’s a quote from her [email protected] talk:
“Great leaders dare to be different. They don’t just
talk about risk-taking; they actually do it. And one of the leaders shared with
me the fact that the most impactful development comes when you are able to
build the emotional stamina to withstand people telling you that your new idea
is naïve or reckless or just plain stupid.”
4.Ability to influence others
Leaders need to be able to
influence other people through authentic and transparent communication. This is
why many organizations today are engaging leadership in workplace
communications, and making it an important
part of their corporate communications strategy.
Leaders should be the role
models and continuously encourage others to live by the core company values and align
with the ultimate business goals.
5.Building trust and transparency
Building trust and driving transparency is
one of the most important leadership characteristics. Today, employees expect their leaders to be
trustworthy and share all the
important information and company updates.
Instead of hiding information
and leaving employees in the dark, a great leader should openly communicate
about everything that is going on in their organization.
By giving visibility to your
followers, they will buy into your mission and vision, and they will support
you with conviction in achieving the goal. Most importantly, transparency and
openness give your followers clarity, and make them feel more empowered while keeping them engaged.
6. Understanding multi-generational workplace
Great leaders have a very good
understanding of the generational differences among employees in
Yet, only 6% of organizations strongly
agree that their leaders
are equipped to lead a multigenerational workforce effectively. This shocking statistic shows that leaders have
a long way to go in understanding, supporting and managing organizations with
that leaders and managers are accountable for 70% of employee
motivation and happiness. Therefore,
one of the greatest characteristics of a great leader is the ability to
motivate and empower employees no matter their age.
On the other hand, even
in 4 employees see effective communication as
the number one leadership attribute, less than 1 in 3 employees feel like their
leaders communicate efficiently.
7.Vision and purpose
As explained by Jack Welch:
“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the
vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”
Good leaders always have a
clear vision and purpose. Outstanding leaders not only visualize the future,
but they also know how to share their vision with their followers, and get
their attention and alignment.
In the workplace, setting and
communicating a clear purpose, mission and vision are the most important prerequisites for
company’s and employees’ success.
When employees are able to see the big picture, they can see where they are
heading. Great leaders know how to inspire others with their vision of the
future, and they are able to influence and inspire others to follow them in
achieving great results.
The Importance of Great Leadership: Facts and Statistics
· A whopping 79% of
employees will quit their jobs due to lack of appreciation from leaders.
· Only 18% of
people believe their company has a transparent and open approach, while 37% are worried about their ability to create trust.
· Only 10% of CEOs are natural
leaders who guide staff by example.
· 63% of Millennials believe their leadership skills are not being
· In a Gallup 2018 survey, only 22% of teams believe that their leaders have any clear direction
for their company.
· Trust in leaders is the highest-ranked link to employee engagement
at 77%. It’s even higher than traditional motivators like organizational
culture (73%) or opportunities for career growth (66%).
· 69% of Millennials believe there is a lack of leadership
development in the workplace.
· Only 15% of
women have board of director roles in the workplace.
· 80% of work accidents occur due to stress from a negative work
· Many organizations have expressed dissatisfaction with their
leadership preparations. 25% are
confident that their company is effectively building digital leaders, but
only 30% say that future leaders are trained to meet evolving
· 58% of organizations top priority is closing leadership skill
· 91% of Millennials will stay in their jobs for fewer than three
· 83% of enterprises believe it’s important to develop leaders at
all levels in a company.
· Only 5% of companies have
integrated leadership development in their corporations.
Great Leadership Is an Art
As much as we all might wish
there was, there isn’t a playbook on being an incredible leader. That’s why we
see successful leaders with so many different styles. There are multiple ways
to go about influencing others and sharing a vision, and there’s no one right
Communication is one of the greatest characteristics of a
great leader. Download our free eBook “Building a Better Company with Internal Communications”
and learn how to improve communication in the workplace