Here are the best leadership qualities I’ve found in the most influential leaders in my career.
In a study surveying tens of thousands of working people around the world, when asking respondents: “What do you look for and admire in a leader?”, 72 percent answered with “that he or she be forward-looking.”
George Washing Carver once remarked: “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.”
The greatest leaders throughout history have inspired hope regarding a better future state as opposed to leaning on knowledge and facts of the known present.
While Martin Luther King Jr. was not the only civil rights activist of his day, he became the leader and face of the era. King did this by creating hope for a future state where all human-beings could live in a society where the ability to live a productive life was not marred by skin-tone.
Mohandas Gandhi, also known as Mahatma (Meaning “the great-souled one”), inspired a vision that illustrated an ideal state of India which constituted the perfect balance of social responsibility and individual freedom, all while respecting the ideology of non-violent divergences in viewpoint and democratic social order.
In the famous Salt March of 1930, a demonstration of civil disobedience against Britain’s Salt Act of 1882 banned Indian citizens from collecting or salt, thousands of people followed Gandhi’s lead. The march resulted in the arrest of nearly 60,000 people, including Gandhi himself.
When he died in 1948, there were nearly 1 million people who followed the procession as Gandhi’s body through the state. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi are great examples of leaders who shaped the vision of an enhance future state that people can follow, which is one of the greatest attributes a leader must possess.
Acknowledge and “own” your mistakes
In his December 19, 1952 address at the National War College, President Harry S. Truman said, “You know, it’s easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done after the game is over. But when the decision is up before you — and on my desk, I have a motto which says The Buck Stops Here’ — the decision is mine.”
During the farewell speech, Truman referred to this concept again, saying, “The President has to decide. [They] can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for [them]. That is [their] job”.
The phrase “pass the buck” originates from the game of Poker and essentially means to “pass the responsibility (or blame) to someone else.”
The best leaders take ownership of their failures and openly acknowledge mistakes while pivoting quickly to recover and move forward.
No one is perfect, and acknowledging our shortcomings does not make us weak – it makes us wholly human.
Albert Einstein, who didn’t speak until he was four years old, failed his entrance exam to the Swiss Federal Polytechnic school at the age of sixteen. He also quit his job as an insurance salesman (mainly due to his inability to perform to standard). Einstein later became known as one of the most brilliant minds known to man.
Elon Musk is arguably one of the highest achievers on the planet, yet he has experienced heart-breaking failures along his entrepreneurial journey. Through each setback, Musk has resiliently moved forward to successfully create or become deeply involved in massive companies such as Tesla, SpaceX, PayPal, Zip2, SolarCity, Hyperloop, OpenAI, The Boring Company, and NueraLink.
Owning your mistakes demonstrates:
- Responsibility – by showing that you embrace a mindset of ownership and will do what it takes to get the job done
- Integrity – by revealing that you refuse to hide from errors and that you value accuracy
- Relatability – by presenting yourself as a flawed human who requires grace
Focus on other people’s success: Use praise and sincere appreciation
One of my favorite John C. Maxwell quotes, states: “The best leaders are humble enough to realize their victories depend upon their people.”
Leaders who recognize their dependence on the team’s effort and grasp every opportunity to offer sincere praise and appreciation to others are the most influential.
When you give credit to others for their successes, you are essentially encouraging and empowering them to continue to demonstrate the displayed behaviors.
In a study conducted by Robert Anderson and William Adams, the number one competency that differentiates the best leaders is their ability to relate interpersonally with others. Over half of the additional proficiencies in the top ten of the same study linked to people skills, including team development, listening and empowering their team.
As a leader, you must understand that taking the credit for successes (even if you sincerely believe you deserve it) can alienate you from your team. The best leaders value team camaraderie, engagement, and overall team progress rather than personal recognition.
In the words of Lao Tzu (one of my all-time favorite quotes): “A leader is best when people barely know that he [or she] exists, when [the] work is done, [the] aim is fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
Be Fair and Consistent
Just because someone is classified as a leader doesn’t necessarily mean they can lead. Leadership is more of an action than a position, and if your efforts are not consistent, no one will want to follow you.
While many will argue that the workplace needs more equality, I believe that leaders will benefit far more greatly by demonstrating the ability to instill culture equity rather than equality.
Workplace equity is when you give each person what they need to do their job while equality can be view as treating everyone the same and giving each person the same thing.
In a perfect world, equality in the workplace would solve all of our problems. Each person would have the same amount of experience, begin from the same starting point, and need the same tools to complete their assignments; unfortunately, this will never be the case as each person, circumstance, and each project has a unique scope.
It is impossible to treat everyone the same because everyone is different and will need your support in varying ways.
The best leaders understand that workplace equity is the act of treating everyone fairly and ensuring that each person on the team feels equally supported to complete the tasks that they are assigned.
Treat People with Respect
Since childhood, we were all imbued with a simple yet powerful principle about how to deal with people: “treat others how you would like to be treated.” In today’s workplace, it may be more appropriate to show respect and appreciation by treating others how they would like to be treated.
In a Georgetown study featuring responses from a sample of 20,000 employees across the globe, respondents ranked respect as the number one principal leadership behavior.
Respect is an indispensable factor for any healthy, professional relationship and demonstrating courteous behaviors is a requirement for everyone who aspires to be a good leader.
Effective leaders show respect by:
- Treating people (regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or social status) with courtesy and kindness
- Listening intently – allowing others to openly express concerns without interrupting or formulating rebuttals to make excuses
- Managing nonverbal cues such as tone of voice, ensuring approachable body language as well as maintaining a positive and professional demeanor during interactions
- Being aware of emotional intelligence and using the necessary skills to relate and show empathy
- Practicing inclusion to ensure that each person feels like they are an integral part of the team
- Offering recognition and praise to show appreciation for good work
Lead by Modeling the Way
Having a real sense of personal accountability and ownership for your work product and outcomes is an incredible characteristic that very few people possess. While many leaders are comfortable with the idea of holding other people accountable for their actions, modeling the way with personal accountability is what sets leaders apart.
Are you setting the example that you want others to follow?
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” By doing this, you are primarily modeling the way for others and showing everyone your values and expectations.
Bring Others Along for the Ride
When polled, 75 percent of people in the workplace rated collaboration as “very important”. At the same time, research has found that individuals who were asked to act collaboratively to work on a task, worked on it 64% longer than those who were working by themselves.
Leaders are typically active individual contributors and are awarded leadership roles primarily due to their exemplary performance. While you may have been applauded for your stellar personal achievements in the past, great leaders know that they cannot go at it alone.
The best leaders bring their team along for the ride and foster a team-centric environment where everyone can share in successes as well as experience failed opportunities together.
While many leaders are required to complete education in communication, most of the curriculum typically focuses on body language, tone, and word choice. Listening is the most critical part of interacting with people. Unfortunately, only 2 percent of people have had any education on “how to listen effectively.”
Practical listening displays empathy fosters engagement, and demonstrates the ability to have an open mind to new ideas and change.
Leaders that are the best listeners ensure that they stay focused on the speaker and guarantee that they capture the message by asking well-defined questions to help the speaker fully convey the message.
In 1999, Blackberry was the number one fastest-growing company, trailblazing the consumer market for mobile devices. Four short years later, after failing to listen to the needs and feedback of their loyal customers to make the necessary changes to innovate their product, the company posted up to a $4.4 billion loss and a 56 percent decline in revenue”.
Meanwhile, Apple and Google listened to feedback to meticulously innovate their products, and the rest is history.
Sam Walton says it best: “If you don’t listen to your customers, someone else will.”
Show Gratitude and Appreciation
Giving thanks makes you a happier human being – It’s a scientific fact. Giving thanks and showing appreciation also makes you a better leader.
Gratitude is the quality of being thankful and a stead readiness to show appreciation or return an act of kindness.
Good leaders are grateful.
They understand that they could not have achieved their success without the help of others and are highly appreciative of the people that they lead. Demonstrate gratitude by taking the time to write personal thank-you notes, verbally thanking people, keeping a journal of the things that you are grateful for, and taking a moment to reflect and pray daily.
Do Whatever Needs to Be Done
Finally, leaders get it done.
Henry Ford once said: “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” Leaders are measured on their tangible actions and successes. As a leader, you must have clarity in your purpose and define specific tasks that will help you achieve your goals and get results.
Act decisively and take the necessary risks needed to get the job done.
As a leader, people look to you for answers and results, and you will ultimately be measured by whether you were able to deliver on the objectives you vowed to achieve.