I’m often asked “What is leadership?” or “How do you define leadership?” Many people clearly recognize leadership or more precisely the lack of leadership. However, when asked to define leadership, many of us struggle to put words to the idea of leadership. Instead we describe people, behavior, or situations we believe show leadership.
Our first reaction, to describe situations, behaviors, and characteristics isn’t wrong, but it should come only after defining leadership. So let’s look at the definition of leadership. If you search the internet you’re likely to find numerous definitions of leadership. The definition I prefer is: Leadership is the process of inspiring others toward a vision or goal. What qualities inspire others toward a vision or goal?
Once we’ve defined leadership we can consider the leadership qualities that make up an effective leader. Through my research and reading, I’ve grouped leadership qualities into 4 categories: Language, Adventure, People, and Trust. While I have grouped many traits into these categories, I’d like to discuss some of the more important, yet sometimes overlooked, qualities.
“Just because you can hear me, doesn’t mean you’re listening to me”
We spend years in English and Writing classes, but not one day in Listening class. Listening, or more correctly Active Listening is a major component in effective leadership. Effective leaders and managers give 100% attention; they do this by looking at the speaker while listening to them. Questions are a useful way to ensure understanding and showing interest. Verbal and non-verbal responses including head nods, eye-contact, and “uh-huh”s are all tools utilized by the effective listener.
Ken Blanchard said “None of us is as smart as all of us”
Effective leaders know how to Build Relationships; they get to know people in all areas of the organization. An effective leader will seek out different opinions and solicit ideas and feedback from their team, their clients, and their vendors. Oftentimes it is through these relationships that business is accomplished. An open and honest communication will ensure truthful and trustworthy relationships.
“Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.” – Mother Theresa
Integrity describes the quality of a person’s character and reveals your true intentions. Integrity is derived from openness and involves candor and truthfulness. Leaders must have integrity, honesty, and transparency, as transparent actions and policies bring about the loyalty and commitment of followers. Shelia Bethel (1989) said “When words and actions match, credibility follows – and then you earn trust.” A trusted manager affects everyone around them as everyone associated with them is seen to have integrity.
“To lead the people, walk behind them.” – Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism
Leadership is usually thought of as autocratic and hierarchical. That is, leaders are on top of the pyramid and followers are at the bottom. Servanthood describes the idea that leaders should be complete followers. Servant-leaders are not afraid to roll-up their sleeves and work toward a common goal. Servant-leaders do their best to empathize with others, understanding their followers and involving them in decision-making. When co-workers and team members are involved in the decision making process they have a direct sense of ownership, and are willing to work toward the goal. Servant leaders lead through action and not position.
Ultimately, leadership is not about your power and authority or your position, but about the trust, communication, and relationships you build with those you lead.
Bethel, S. M. (1989, December). Qualities of Leadership. Executive Excellence, 6(12), 9. Retrieved June 5, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Complete. (Document ID: 393105).
Bibb, S., & Kourdi, J. (2007). Chapter 5: How leaders build trust. (pp. 61-74). Marshall Cavendish Limited. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database.
Carmine, G. (n.d). Why Leadership Means Listening; Today’s employees want to be asked for feedback and they want to be heard. Here are four tips to help you become a better listener.(VIEWPOINT)(Column). Business Week Online, Retrieved from Gale: Academic OneFile (PowerSearch) database.
Fisher Jr., J. (2004). Servant Leadership. Executive Excellence, 21(5), 15. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
Froschheiser, L. (2008). communication, communication, communication the most important key to success in business leadership. Supervision, 69(10), 9. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
Kerfoot, K. (2006). Authentic Leadership. Dermatology Nursing, 18(6), 595-596. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
Spears, L. (2009). Servant Leadership. Leadership Excellence, 26(5), 20. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
Susan, R. (n.d). Are you listening?(LEADERSHIP MATTERS). Techniques, 84(2), 10. Retrieved from Gale: Academic OneFile (PowerSearch) database.