According to Simon Sinek, organizational consultant, motivational speaker and author, there is a distinct difference between those we call leaders, and those who lead.
Leaders may hold positions of rank, power or authority and try to force behaviors or actions in others. Yet, the real leaders are those who inspire action in others through their example and passion.
Unfortunately, positions of power and leadership in our society are more often than not occupied by the former rather than the later.
What makes great leaders in our businesses, communities, even in our own families, instead of relying on our size or rank?
Here are 10 essential qualities of a leader that make a leader great.
1. True Leaders Often Don’t Know They are Leaders
Paradoxically, most truly great leaders may not even realize the role they have taken on. They may not feel especially powerful, and they don’t necessarily feel ‘better’, smarter or more persuasive than those around them.
But they can and do recognize leadership qualities in others, and will invest their time and energy into encouraging and developing those qualities. The loyalty a true leader inspires is not sought after, but rather a natural by-product of their integrity and authenticity in action.
Great leaders cultivate the ability to see the best in others, and to draw out that potential via positive expectation and encouragement. They inspire and empower others, planting the seeds of leadership in those that surround them.
2. Leaders Know Themselves Well
Those who lead must understand human nature, and they start by fully understanding themselves. They begin by recognizing that they have a voice, and a unique perspective to be shared with others.
Great leaders possess a strong sense of personal responsibility for their lives, their actions, and their word.
They know their strengths, and are equally aware of their weaknesses and thus understand the need for team work and the sharing of responsibility.
3. True Leaders Understand Human Nature
The study of human nature may begin with themselves, but true leaders aspire to understand others in equal measure.
A strong leader is aware that leading others requires a willingness on the part of those who follow; it requires ‘buy in’ to what the leader is working to accomplish. For this reason, a good leader will speak from the heart, and speak to the emotions of others through their passion and beliefs.
By acting and behaving with integrity at all times, and by speaking and leading from a passionate set of values and beliefs, they appeal to and inspire passion and action in others.
4. Great Leaders Know Their ‘Why’
Great leaders understand that desired changes in behavior and actions will naturally occur in others when they feel inspired and passionate about something. And so, true leaders share their own passion for their beliefs or cause with others.
Having a strong, clear vision and passion for their cause means truly understanding the ‘why’ behind what they do. Whether in business, sales, politics or family relationships, knowing and sharing the passion of a clearly defined ‘why’ is critical.
Once a leader is clear on his or her ‘why’, the how (behavior, and actions) and what (desired end result) evolve and flow naturally, without the need for coercion or force.
5. True Leaders Believe in Themselves
A great leader knows who they are and understands why they are driven. As a result, they have a confidence that is born from truly believing in themselves and their cause. This is not the false or fickle confidence buoyed by praise or rank or pay scale, but a genuine and solid certainty and poise that lends them the boldness and courage to do what needs to be done.
The great leaders of our time seem to demonstrate a fearlessness that we aspire to. But what may appear as a lack of fear is actually courage in the face of fear.
Great leaders are passionate and committed to their cause and their mission. They believe so wholeheartedly in themselves that they are not easily daunted by nay-sayers or critics, and are thus able to remain on course when many would lose traction.
However, in spite of having such faith and confidence in themselves, true leaders are quick to give credit and praise to others when it is due, and remain humble enough to recognize and admit when they are wrong.
A great leader understands that it takes the actions and courage of those they lead to give rise to truly lasting change and progress.
6. Great Leaders Think Outside the Box
Inspiring and creating change in oneself and others requires flexibility, and a willingness to bend, shift and evolve when faced with new information.
A true leader understands this, and remains open-minded and ever willing to adjust and reinvent themselves as required.
Effective leaders are innovative, and encourage unconventional thinking in themselves and those they lead. They recognize that thinking outside the box is the best way to remain creative and responsive to constant and on-going change.
7. True Leaders Listen
We often see so-called leaders in our society – our politicians, business CEO’s and managers, self-proclaimed gurus, and those in positions of authority – pontificating and telling others what they should be doing to make such and such happen.
But true leaders are often quiet. They ask questions, listen, and observe. Listening is a skill that requires practice and patience. Listening is even more important than asking the right questions or any other leadership skill.
They pay attention to what others are saying and doing, and they make note of what needs to be done. And then they set about doing it.
Along the way, via their continual demonstration of passion and integrity, they inspire others to do the same.
8. True Leaders Demonstrate Grace
It may seem odd to attribute the quality of grace to those in positions of power, but being in a leadership position demands it.
Grace means maintaining self-respect and dignity in the face of adversity, failure or opposition. It is showing respect and courtesy towards others, even when those others are your competitors or adversaries. It is demonstrating patience and compassion for those who may not yet understand as you do.
Grace means honoring one’s promises and remaining true to one’s word, even when no one is watching.
9. Great Leaders Persevere
Another quiet and often hidden quality of truly great leaders is perseverance.
Creating change, bringing innovation to the market, sparking progress, and leading others in times of adversity requires a commitment to one’s beliefs and ideas that is not easily shaken by the inevitable challenges and obstacles that arise.
Tenacity – following through when all you want to do is quit – requires a strength of character that many do not take the time to cultivate in themselves.
The great leaders understand the importance of staying on course, of having the grit and determination to push forward when many would turn back.
10. True Leaders Are Willing to Sacrifice Themselves
This last essential quality is perhaps the most important, and sadly the least prevalent in those who often hold leadership positions in our society.
True leaders realize that positions of power and authority often come with perks and advantages, such as more money or material wealth, more freedoms, or perhaps more access to better life choices. As such, they adopt an attitude of gratefulness for the gifts that may be bestowed upon them by virtue of their position in society.
However, they also understand that these gifts are just one-half of the exchange; when push comes to shove, it is a leader’s duty to step up and defend those they lead.
For a CEO or manager, this may mean stepping in to defend an employee who has been unjustly accused as a whistle-blower.
For the king or president or political leader, it may mean putting aside their own desires or agendas to give their constituents what they need and want.
For the head of a family, it might mean going without personally so that the family as a whole can thrive.
True leaders accept the privileges that come with positions of elevated power, status or wealth, and respect and honor the other half of the exchange when it is required of them. They are willing to make the necessary sacrifices, and are generous with their time, resources and power to keep their team, tribe, company or family safe in times of threat or danger.
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