Throughout the ages we have seen men and women of differing characters and personality come into leadership in different spheres of life, including monarchies, governments, corporations and social movements. Some prominent figures that come to mind are Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., Kwame Nkuruma, Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, and Julius Nyerere.
No doubt we could compile a long list when searching the qualities that make a great leader. That said, of all the characteristics I am sure that we can all reduce our list to the few we consider essential. For me, the essential ones for any leader are:
- Positive Self-Image: Our childhood, upbringing, and environments have a strong bearing on how we view ourselves. However, once we have matured sufficiently we reach a point in life when we can choose how we view ourselves based on the life philosophy we embrace. This could be something we grew up with or an entirely new belief system. A leader should have a positive self image, being confident and believing in his or her self-worth and capabilities. Positive self-image (but not arrogance) gives us courage to take risks in stepping out to follow our dreams and inspires others to also be themselves and to be their best.
- Self-Motivation: Initiative and the courage to act in a given situation is a key cornerstone to leadership. Taking initiative to act may be done in the areas of helping those in need, trying new ideas, and changing things for the better.
- Belief in People: A leader must care for and believe in people. This means seeing the best in people, holding a high regard and appreciation for their ability and potential for growth and to achieve great things. This belief is translated into how the leader treats people – which should be with understanding, acceptance, and respect. People who feel valued and respected commit unreservedly to the common purpose, doing their best to ensure that goals are attained. The leader appreciateseverybody’s contributionand shares the credit for success with everyone involved.
- Vision: A leader should be able to view the organization not only in terms of its component parts but holistically and also in the greater context of the environment in which it operates; this includes market changes, industry trends and the economic climate.Having a clear understanding of the organisation and its environment, the leader needs to have a clear vision for the business, which is achieved by fulfilling its mission and doing so in line with core values.
- Creativity: Those in positions of leadership have the challenge of frequently facing circumstances that are not day-to-day occurrences, such as charting the organization’s way in an ever-changing environment. Therefore, the leader must be innovative and show creativity in solving problems, finding new ways of doing things and achieving organizational success.
- True Intent: A leader should engage and interact authentically, being honest regarding the character, their motives and intentions in their dealings with others. People feel disrespected, manipulated, and taken advantage of when others misrepresent themselves to get what they want. On the other hand, people are inspired when they know you have their best interests at heart, and when your actions reflect that they are happy to be associated with you and they support you. Prominence or fame is a by-product of good leadership. It should never be the reason anyone seeks to be a leader.
After reviewing some of the above attributes of leaders,you may be tempted to think that perhaps you do not have what it takes to be a leader; however, it is worthwhile remembering that whilst we all have the capacity and potential to lead, we have to develop and become leaders. This principle holds true even for those who seem to show a natural propensity to leadership. That said, I encourage you not only to lead but to be the best leader that you can possibly be.