Great leaders are not born. They are created over time. It’s important that we stop thinking of leaders as only those who are famous or at the top of large organizations. Leaders are everywhere, and leadership development is for everyone. Your level of leadership may not be the same right now as Elon Musk’s, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a leader. Whether you are a cashier, a stock clerk, or an intern, you can grow in the qualities of effective leaders today.
Great leaders all share five specific qualities. Here I’ll share them so that you can start preparing yourself for greater levels of leadership in your future. Again, regardless of your position today, you can have these qualities. So if you want to be seen as a great leader someday, start working on developing these within yourself.
Accept Responsibility and Give Away the Credit
Most people are always trying to escape responsibility. They shift blame. It’s always someone else’s fault. They’re never the one in the wrong, not by their own admission at least. One of the clearest qualities of effective leaders is that they don’t focus on blaming others. Instead, they take responsibility for their team and their organization. Rather than use their power to throw people under the bus, they stand in the gap for them when things go wrong.
But it doesn’t stop there. Rather than take all the credit for their team’s successes, great leaders honor the individuals around them. They take opportunities to shine the spotlight on their people. Instead of competing for recognition and credit (like most people) they give it away.
Build Trust Through Empathy
Empathy is key in the qualities of effective leaders. Great leaders build rapport over time with their team. They don’t get defensive and they hold back criticism unless it’s necessary. At the same time, they hold healthy boundaries. Great leaders don’t always agree with the complaints of their team, nor do they accept bad behavior. However, they do always seek to understand their team’s concerns and actions.
Effective leaders build trust. They understand the value of being seen, valued, and heard, and they work intentionally at making sure their people feel this way fundamentally. Constructive criticism is necessary for a successful business, but too much of it can kill morale. It’s much easier to give constructive criticism to someone when they know they are valued – when they have a consistent relationship with you. The best leaders understand this.
Firm, Fair, and Attentive
Clarity is crucial. Great leaders seek to understand and hear their people, but they also don’t sugarcoat. That’s why I’d say one qualities of effective leaders is their ability to be firm, fair, and attentive. After they are diligent to understand a problem or complaint, great leaders articulate the solution and the expectations involved. That second part is really important. The best leaders clarify expectations and make sure they are agreed to and understood. When their people fail to follow through, leaders hold them to it.
Meanwhile, great leaders are consistent with their accountability. If Jane makes the same mistake that John makes, Jane is held to the same standard and gets the same feedback. Variable levels of standards create an atmosphere of bias, and an atmosphere of bias will kill any team’s respect for their leader.
This is why you must be very careful to be firm and fair. Being firm means setting a clear expectation, and being fair means holding everyone to that same expectation. When you are consistent with your expectations and accountability, it’s much easier to be attentive to the heartbeat of your culture. Together they give you standard that allows you to gauge when things are right, and when they are off.
Grow Yourself to Grow Others
A universal quality of effective leaders is perpetual growth. The best leaders are always growing. They crave learning and challenges. It’s a value they carry in them that no one has to hold them to. One of the reasons great leaders love to grow (I’m convinced) is because they want to help others grow. In order to help others grow, you have to be growing yourself. Otherwise you aren’t helping anyone – you’re just being hypocritical.
Listen First, Speak Last
Out of all the qualities of effective leaders, this may be the most important of all. Great leaders always believe their is brilliance in the room, hidden in the people around them. They don’t have all the answers, and they know it.
Rather than shutting down all conversation to hear themselves talk, they listen first. Instead of expressing their opinion and demanding agreement, they encourage diversity of thought. They look around the room for those who may have insight and ask them directly for input. “Bobby, you’ve been working on this project for a while now, and you haven’t said anything yet. What do you think about this plan?”
Not only does this bring valuable information forward, but it builds trust, rapport, and unity in the team like nothing else. It makes people feel seen, valued and heard. When people feel seen, valued, and heard, they feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.
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