Whether it’s the president of a nation or the captain of your kickball team, it is easy to tell when you are in the presence of great leadership. Studies have shown that one third of the qualities that make a successful leader are innate while the rest of what makes up true greatness is learned.The following are qualities of an effective leader.
Every decision, whether it be to go to war, to run a clinical trial with a new cancer treatment that you believe in, or to refuse to listen to racist jokes at the playground, has consequences. Leaders are able to make a choice and defend their actions. The greatest leaders admit their failures, learn from their mistakes, and go right back to work, taking strides to prevent future shortcomings.
Nelson Mandela, the first South African president, remained committed to the anti-apartheid movement, even after serving an almost 30 year jail sentence. Great leadership requires sacrifice and determination despite your losses.
Great leaders learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. They have the insight to predict where the future is headed, and even though progress might be slow, they are able to keep their focus as they manage the daily challenges of the present.
NFL quarterback Drew Brees stated that the best advice he received was “never let anybody tell you that you can’t accomplish something that you are willing to work for.” There will always be people around to tell you that you’re not good enough and that the task ahead cannot be achieved. The ability to listen to the motivating voices and shut out the deterring ones propels leaders toward success.
Mahatma Ghandi found a way to protest the atrocities he saw in India without violence, later inspiring Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. Madeleine Albright paved new roads for women in politics. Mark Zuckerburg believed he could change the way we communicate with one another. Society will always make boxes with labels and people will always be more comfortable putting things in their pre-assigned place. It takes courage, determination, and creativity to change these categories. While this is often a lonely road at first, it is astonishing how one person can open the door for countless others.
Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Great leaders see something wrong and they are unable to look the other way. Whether it’s changing the operations of a large company, fighting for civil rights, or standing up to a bully on the playground, these people do not stay quiet to the injustices around them.
Ursula Burns, the CEO of Xerox, was told by her mother to “leave behind more than you take.” Great leaders are focused on benefiting the whole. They are focused on making policies that improve the conditions for not only themselves, but all those around them. They work to empower people to become stronger individuals and thus create a stronger whole.
They are able vocalize their ideas and their mission. They explain their actions and the rationale behind them. They understand that everyone has something to teach them and often the best communicators are the ones who are best able to listen.
While leadership requires immense initiative, great leaders know that no goal can be accomplished alone. They can accurately identify the abilities of others and they delegate tasks appropriately in order to maintain efficiency and maximize potential.
In the book Blink, the author Malcom Gladwell argues that our “intuition” is based on a subconscious collection of our past experiences. This “gut feeling” works like a computer in that it aggregates all of our previous interactions with the present situation. The “feeling” is then your brain’s first impulse based on the data collected. Great leaders know when to rely on this ability and when to wait for more information to make a decision.
In your own life, who is more inspiring: the person who continually talks about dieting and weight loss or the person at the gym everyday bringing their own lunch to work? While effective communication is extremely important to the success of a leader, actions often speak much louder. This explains why so many politicians are dismantled not by poor political decisions, but by mistakes in their personal life such as affairs and drug use (ie. Anthony Weiner and Rob Ford).
The great leaders of our world often do not set out for glory, fame, or fortune, but believe in doing the right thing and commit themselves to that goal. They lead by example, make sacrifices, and are not deterred by challenges that would defeat the average person. If you look at the great leaders in your life— your boss, your mother, your religious leader—you will notice the above probably applies to them. Being a leader only requires that one person follow you, and at some point everyone will be in this position. Keep these qualities in mind: you never know how many people are already looking to you for direction.
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