The success of our companies and countries ultimately depends on our leaders. In addition to skills, real leaders bring a set of important traits to their work. These traits are often developed and refinded through experience. These insights have come from a variety of leaders and leadership experts working in many different fields.
Let’s dive in and find out if you are a real leader by examining these inherent traits.
1. They are honest
In their classic leadership book, “The Truth About Leadership”, James M. Kouzes and Barry S. Posner surveyed people across the world regarding leadership. The far-ranging study found that honesty is the number one trait people want in their leaders. Without this strong moral foundation, a leader has no credibility.
TIP: Honesty matters to your work even if you are not in a leadership role – 4 Reasons Why You Should Always Be Honest.
2. They want the best for their people
Real leaders deeply value the people that work under their leadership. For example, entrepreneur Jon Taffer (known for his TV show Bar Rescue), demonstrates his belief in people by training them and giving them feedback to improve. As a result of his leadership, his company sees a turnover rate far lower than the industry average.
To apply this principle to your leadership role, take the time to understand what your people want. Some staff may want schedule flexibility, while others will be focused on career advancement.
3. They know their strengths
A key principle in management research tells us that top performance comes from working on our strengths. In their study of 2 million people, Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton found that working in your strengths is vital. Their insights are explained in greater detail in the book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths.”
4. They know leadership is influence
Leadership author and expert John C Maxwell has taught the principle that leadership is influence for decades in his speeches and books. Real leaders understand that they cannot simply rely on their title or formal authority to get results. Instead, they have to build up influence through relationships, setting a good example, and other means. A focus on influence means that you can begin to lead people, no matter your job title.
TIP: Read 10 Ways to Positively Influence Others In The Workplace to discover how to use your influence skills for the common good.
5. They know motivation, inside out
“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan, NBA Basketball champion
Motivating yourself to work and achieving results is the foundation for an effective leader. A good leader knows the importance of mastering their own motivation, even to keep working through dull activities. Armed with that understanding, real leaders motivate their people to keep working.
TIP: A few words, at the right time, make all the difference to motivation – 50 Motivational Quotes That Will Put Your Motivation on Overdrive.
6. They keep growing
Without a growing leader, an organization will struggle to grow. Dedicated leaders keep learning by reading books, working through conferences, and meeting with top performers. This principle holds true even if you fail to observe it. For example, Sarah Palin was unable to name any magazines or periodicals she reads to stay informed about current affairs during a 2008 interview with Katie Couric.
TIP: Keep growing yourself through personal development – 22 Killer Personal Development Resources You’re Missing Out On.
7. They are ambitious for their organization
Real leaders know the importance of focusing on their organization, rather than their personal glory. Management researcher Jim Collins found that the best CEOs seek growth for their organization. While some “celebrity CEOs” achieve their results during their tenure, those results fade once they leave the C-suite.
To apply this principle, use it to make decisions. Ask the question, “Is this decision best for the organization or is it good for me?”
8. They keep working through challenges
Every leader faces major challenges and disappointments. What sets real leaders apart from the rest is their ability to work through setbacks. For example, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was declined admission to military school on his first application. He kept studying and applying until he was granted admission. Churchill’s determination to keep working at a challenging goal is a key trait that led him to success later in life.
TIP: Different challenges require different responses – 10 Challenges Leaders Always Face And How To Deal With Them.
9. They value effective communication
Communication is a key skill that real leaders take the time to master. For example, Demosthenes became a highly successful public speaker and leader in ancient Greece through years of effort. For years, he struggled to speak effectively. How did he improve? He used a variety of methods, including speaking with pebbles in his mouth. Working through discomfort to grow your communication skills is an important trait among real leaders.
10. They are willing to admit when they are wrong
Leaders are constantly making decisions. From time to time, they will make mistakes. When those mistakes occur, real leaders know the importance of admitting the mistake and moving on. For example, President Obama admitted to making a mistake regarding a decision regarding Tom Daschle shortly after taking office. It is rare for a U.S. President to admit mistakes in office, yet Obama and other Presidents have done it on occasion.
TIP: To inspire you to own your mistakes, read How to Admit Your Mistakes.
11. They focus on the future
A future focus is a key trait for leaders. In “The Truth About Leadership,” the second most admired trait in leaders (after honesty) is to be forward-looking. While there is value in understanding the past, real leaders realize that they cannot change history. Even better, leaders know that their people are inspired by future potential, rather than revisiting past mistakes.
Resource: For a broader perspective, read The Seven Qualities of Visionary Leaders
Featured photo credit: Steve Jobs/Bob Stanfield via flickr.com