What makes a great leader?

Many years ago, I was a member of a local Scout troop. On one occasion we were going to be camping in the woods, and as the mischievous teenagers we were, we decided it would be the perfect opportunity to bring plenty of booze. Our plot was simple: smuggle the contraband onto camp by concealing it in black soda bottles. Once we were set up in the woods and our leader had gone to sleep, we would drink and be merry. We had assumed that our leader would leave us alone and check on us during the night. We were wrong. The next day, whilst scrubbing the toilets, we reflected that perhaps we weren't as smart as we had thought…

OK, so that wasn't a exactly textbook example of leadership. I could easily have opened up with a cliched tale of an ancient commander, leading his troops to victory in the face of overwhelming odds, but that only scratches the surface of leadership. More importantly, we all have the capacity to be great leaders without having to lead an army.

A very simplistic view of leadership is that it's about getting people to work towards the same goal. However, the way this is done is what shows a leader's true qualities. Bullying people into working will only get you so far, but being too easy going may not get you results at all. So what qualities do good leaders share?

  • They lead by example – This is the foundation of everything else that makes a truly great leader. They set the bar high for themselves, and strive to live up to their own expectations. However, just because they have high standards doesn't mean they expect perfection from everyone else. Everybody makes mistakes, even those with the best intentions.
  • They are honest – Honesty and integrity are vital ingredients in any form of human interaction. Lying and scheming can get you places, and whilst some may get away with it, for the majority their underhanded ways will hurt them in the end.
  • They have courage – If there's one constant in life, it's that things are never easy. It takes courage and strength of character to get yourself, and others, through these times. It also takes courage to do the right thing in the face of opposition.
  • They listen – It's easy to bark orders at people, but it's important to listen to those you are leading. Nobody can do everything by themselves, so listen to the ideas and problems of others. It's important to be open to feedback, because if people know you'll ignore their problems and ideas they'll be less likely to tell you anything in the first place.
  • They nurture – There are a lot of talented people around that often feel as if their talents are being ignored. Great leaders can see the potential in others and encourage them to raise their game.
  • They encourage others to be independent – A fear-based leader will not always encourage others to be independent, as this would threaten their position of "being in charge". By encouraging others to work independently, you let them know that you trust them and that they're valuable members of a team.
  • They plan – Because you're working towards a goal, it's essential to plan ahead. This lets people know that you're serious about the project, and also gives them an idea of where things are going.

When we think of leadership, we often assume it is reserved for certain people. After all, leaders are born, not made, right? The truth is, you have the potential to be a truly great leader, and it doesn't have to involve leading hundreds of people. Setting an example to those around you is also a form of leadership. The goal doesn't have to be completing a new project or building a skyscraper, but becoming a better person.

Posted in: General | Comments (2)

2 Comments

#1 | | September 28, 2009 at 01:07AM

I am on the right path, thank you

#2 | | March 02, 2010 at 03:32AM

These answers indicate a lack of understanding of the true benefits of relaxation. Any manager who really knows the difference it can make will create space, time and support throughout the workplace.

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