The characteristics of great leaders

Magazine excerpt: Heidi Ashley-Hacker asks, what are the core qualities required from today’s leaders?

Today, the expectations we have of our leaders are changing. This is clear from election results around the world. The change for business leaders reflects evolving societal norms. The question is “How can I develop as a leader?” The answer in today’s world must include encouraging business leaders to develop and empower their followers.

The concern in professional development circles is how to demonstrate return on investment within an organisation. A well-developed leader working with empowered followers will deliver greater return than one trying to lead an uninterested body of followers.

The title ‘leader’ doesn’t command the followership that it might have done 30 years ago. What has persisted is a set of necessary skills. This is non-negotiable.

The five most essential skills required by leaders

  • Clarity of vision that balances hindsight with foresight

Effective leaders exude a confidence that, having considered all the pertinent and influencing factors, they know with a high degree of certainty that the charted course is the most appropriate.

Unfortunately, many leadership teams are led by busy leaders who focus on the short rather than long term and fail to set a vision and strategic direction. Consequently, senior teams reporting to the leadership are working independently, guided by their own understanding and initiative.

It is challenging for these senior teams to align their plans and collaborate effectively due to their different perspectives. Leaders in these instances are short sighted and often controlled by firefighting strategies due to unforeseen situations.

  • Knowledgeable within their sphere of expertise

Great leaders are respected for their knowledge and experience and can offer mentoring and guidance from a sound base of understanding.

When leaders are parachuted into one industry from another they can find a lack of buy-in from their immediate followers. In these instances, the leaders have a harder time gaining trust than have new leaders with the relevant experience (as perceived by the followers).

For example, when a new leader joined a clothing firm from a completely different sector, the foundation for decision making was very different between the two industries. This leader found decisions being challenged. Not surprisingly the first year’s promised results were missed by a big margin.

  • Excellent communicators

Effective leaders engage varied audiences, connecting with people both intellectually and emotionally. They influence and inspire with a combination of stories, facts, anecdotes and emotion.

It is surprising how many senior executives run ineffective meetings and are poor presenters. Many executives have missed out on effective communication skills development opportunities, and then become so senior they are afraid to ask for help.

Networking, speaking at industry and professional conferences as well as motivating and inspiring audiences within one’s own organisation are all important roles for a leader. Many senior leaders can benefit from time with a story-telling/presentation and communication expert. Even if they are already good, they can go from good to great, or from great to exceptional.

  • Brave and confident in the face of adversity

When situations get challenging, effective leaders focus, observe, assess and make timely and often tough decisions that help navigate through the situation.

Imagine a leader of a major organisation – respected, with a clear vision, inspiring to listen to. However, when the plan didn’t turn out as anticipated and barriers to progress appeared, his vision seemed to blur and he became incapable of making a decision that the senior team supported. It didn’t take long before this leader was removed by the board.

  • Deliver results

Great leaders have a recent track record that demonstrates the efficacy of their leadership. Followers are discerning regarding whom they choose to follow and openly judge leaders on their accomplishments as well as their behaviours.

Given the accessibility and speed of social media, leaders have nowhere to hide regarding the results of their efforts. To survive, leaders today must deliver results that are visible, measurable and plentiful.

Sometimes leaders do deliver measurable and plentiful results, but unless these are visible to their followers and to wider audiences much of what they do may pass under the radar.

An effective leader must ensure that they are supported by a streamlined communications system that disseminates results internally and externally and raises the profile of the successes and the organisation. 


To read the full article go to pages 25-27.

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