I received some excellent inputs on my previous blog titled, “Great Leadership.” Because of this feedback, I decided to break up the essay into two parts to better convey its value.
This blog is part one of a two-part essay on Great Leadership. I will first discuss what it takes to be a great leader and follow up with an essay on what it takes to deliver Great Leadership.
Great leaders are rare…
It doesn’t mean that people are not leading or that they are not successful – success is achieved in many ways and at numerous levels. But does their leadership transform? Do they move concepts and people to unimaginable heights? Do they challenge the status quo? And do they rule the future rather than the future ruling them?
Great leaders do not just manage, direct or command, they motivate people to act, excite them to a cause and inspire them to believe. They are game-changers that transcend reward or measure. They unite ideas and people and instill in them a belief in something more than themselves, something worth following.
These are not just leaders, these are great leaders.
What is a Great Leader?
There are many ways for people to lead successfully. Meeting goals or objectives, ensuring everyone knows what is expected, providing people the right tools and engendering a positive culture are all examples of leading. But for a great leader, it is more than an efficient and productive atmosphere, it is about getting others to believe in what you are leading.
A great leader operates beyond spreadsheets and statistics, they inspire. What sets them apart is not accepting what others are doing but set the path for others to follow — status quo is not in their vocabulary. They take idle cultures, people, and ideas and reinvigorate them. They revitalize their purpose and instill a belief in something more than themselves. Great leaders generate change that reimagines the old and excites the spirit. This is not ordinary change, but game-changing.
But to be a great leader, people must follow you first and then your idea…ideas alone can intrigue, but ideas well-led transform.
Any leader can introduce an idea, but great leaders personify it. It is a recognizable passion for the message, and “their actions speak louder than words.” They excite, embolden, and confidently influence. It is more than managing, directing, or commanding. A great leader does not tell people to follow, they get people to follow.
Equally important, they look beyond today and see a future potential that others fail to recognize. For instance, Steven Jobs did not spark a technological revolution with just an idea, he envisioned a future and then created it. Jobs connected ideas and produced game-changing products that were unique, innovative, and groundbreaking — ones that were not just cool, but forever changed the way we interact. And although there were others who had similar ideas and spent millions trying to achieve it, their plans are in “the dustbin of history.”
Another such leader was Martin Luther King, Jr. He embodied the civil rights movement. He envisioned a future of equality, respect and diverse success. His impeccable character, drive, and passion made a nation listen and forever change its social fabric. However, King was not the only person marching for civil rights. Other leaders fought for it but fell short garnering support from the masses. King was unique.
Why is it that similar ideas can have such a different effect? What made Jobs or King so different? Was it luck, timing, or something else?
A little bit of luck never hurts, and timing can be a big plus, but great leaders do not need a break or depend on the planets aligning. They are successful because they are wholly committed, genuine in their beliefs and more importantly, embody the product or message. Their drive, passion, coherence, and persistence win the hearts and minds of millions.
What made them different was that these game-changers had something internal. A common set of traits or distinguishing features that transform ideas to a movement, and a movement to significant change. It is a unique combination of human qualities that set them apart and provided them the tools to be more than just a leader, but a great leader.
Ten common traits behind a great leader
Confident—This is an essential attribute that is both admired and despised, depending on how it is displayed. By its very nature, it is the assurance of an individual, but more importantly, it is humbly expressed. As Leonardo da Vinci said: “He who truly knows, has no occasion to shout.” At the same time, it is the certainty of bringing order to disorder, action to inaction, and direction to misdirection. It is a consistent, fair, and respected strength, but above all willingly accepted and admired. It is bold in a way that is courageous, purposeful and welcomed. Confidence resurrects hope.
Inquisitive—To develop and move forward ideas or concepts, one must be intellectually curious and eager for knowledge. As Francis Bacon stated, “Knowledge is power.” You must have an insatiable drive to learn and an intellectual orientation to routinely ask questions and search for answers. It is fundamental to being personally credible and having people trust in the durability of your ideas; a characteristic critical in expressing your thoughts. Inquisitiveness allows you to be both a disruptor and a creator.
Articulate—Words are important. You must be able to use words that resonate, and concepts and slogans packaged for people to remember. It is a level of intelligence, insightfulness, and awareness of one’s surroundings and the ability to manipulate it. It is a keenness that can take pieces and parts, recognize their connective value, and express it in clear, distinct relationships. Brilliant ideas poorly expressed die at the doorstep.
Adaptive—In today’s fast-changing world of globalization, international business, and information overload, leaders must continually adapt their plans and adopt new strategies, technologies, and ways of thinking. Flexibility and adaptability are the hallmarks of any effective leader and critical during uncertain periods. However, basic principles and personal ethics can and should be unbending. It is the ability to adjust in a constantly changing environment.
Selfless – It is not about you. It is about everything else. Selflessness is always recognized, admired and respected. It is about a legacy for the mission and others; not oneself. Credit is not what you take but what you give. Accolades will accompany a great leader but never expected – it comes with success and needs no publicity. If you are worried about a pat on the back or admiration, you may be leading, but you are not a great leader. In the end, everyone recognizes the sacrifice and as Samuel Adams once stated, “Give credit to whom credit due.”
Creative—This can be viewed as innovative. However, innovation is often misconstrued as only something new. The key is that you are creative in your ideas and innovative in their application. It is not about the change, as much as how to institute change and what change will bring. Someone who introduces something new always fights the comfort of today with the uncertainty of tomorrow. A great leader creatively shapes the message, so change is desired, understood, and pursued. It is about establishing a new culture, a culture that is intriguing and beneficial. One in which uncertainty is exciting.
Inspiring—You must arouse a desire to perform. It is a passionate and uplifting message that touches people at a personal level. It is attractive in its’ sensibility, exciting in its’ promise, and rewarding in its’ outcome. Inspiration should encourage, stimulate, and spark a strong feeling for the mission and its value, a powerful message that awakens the inner spirit and ignites a belief; look for the value in all things. Find paths when others see road blocks, good when all around you is bad, and hope when all is hopeless.
Trusted—As Stephen Covey states in his book, The Speed of Trust (2006), “When you trust people, you have confidence in them—in their integrity and their abilities. When you distrust people, you are suspicious of them—of their integrity, their agenda, their capabilities.” Trust is a dependence on someone or something and involves faith in not only the individual’s actions but also in the message. It is an assured reliance or confidence in them and their ideas. It is the foundation of relationships and communication—if you cannot trust the source, then the message has little meaning. No trust equals no change.
Principled – Not just morally or ethically, but holistically. Noble in every aspect of your life and work; live it, work it, and practice it. It is an honest, honorable, and altruistic behavior. A guiding sense of the requirements and obligations of correct conduct.” Never compromise others or your work. Hold the high ground. As Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus state in Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge (1985), “Managers are people who do things right, and leaders are people who do the right thing.”
Persistent—Never quit! One must move past adversity, overcome misfortune, and stay on target. When all seems lost, be out in front showing the way forward as if adversity and misfortune are friends. Never display doubt or despair—success is inevitable!
Great leaders are rare. They do not just manage, direct or command, but unite people and transform ideas into a movement. They don’t ask people to follow, they get people to follow. They take uncertainty and make it certain and hopelessness and create hope. As Napoleon Bonaparte said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” They always look beyond the problems of today and find solutions for tomorrow.
Great leaders do not just bring change, they are game-changers.
Watch for part 2 on Great Leadership. It will look at great leaders and how they apply their skills to produce “great leadership.”