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11 Qualities Of A Truly Great Leader

11 Qualities Of A Truly Great Leader

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.

1. Great leaders make tough decisions and take responsibility for the consequences.

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.

2. Leaders are focused on the final goal and committed to achieving it.

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.

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3. Leaders are focused on the future, aware of the present, and have learned from the past.

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.

4. They are able to filter out what is important and what is not.

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.

5. Leaders are visionaries: they are willing to see things outside of the current status quo, ignore the lines already drawn, and draw new ones of their own.

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.

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6. They are devoted to ethics.
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    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.

    7. At their core, great leaders pursue a purpose to improve mankind and work for the greater good of others.

    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.

    8. Great leaders know how to communicate with their audience.

    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.

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    9. They are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of those around them.

    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.

    10. They rely on their intuition.

    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.

    11. They lead by example.

    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).

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    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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    Last Updated on May 22, 2020

    What Makes a Good Leader: 9 Critical Leadership Qualities

    What Makes a Good Leader: 9 Critical Leadership Qualities

    The word “leader” makes you think of people in charge, high-ranking people: your boss, politicians, presidents, CEOs…

    But leadership really isn’t about a particular position or a person’s seniority. Just because someone has worked for many years doesn’t mean s/he has gained the qualities and skills to lead a team.

    Getting promoted to a managerial position doesn’t automatically turn you into a leader either. CEOs and other high-ranking officials don’t always have great leadership skills.

    So what makes a good leader? What are the characteristics of a leader?

    Good leadership is about acquiring and honing specific skills. Leadership skills enable you to be a role model for a team in any environment. With great leadership qualities, successful leaders come in all shapes and sizes: in the home, at school, or in the workplace.

    The following are some of the many characteristics great leaders exhibit.

    1. A Positive Attitude

    Great leaders know that they won’t have a happy and motivated team unless they themselves exhibit a positive attitude. This can be done by remaining positive when things go wrong and by creating a relaxed and happy atmosphere in the workplace.

    Even some simple things like providing snacks or organizing a team Happy Hour can make a world of difference. An added perk is that team members are likely to work harder and do overtime when needed if they’re happy and appreciated.

    Even in the worst situations, such as experiencing low team morale or team members having made a big mistake at work, a great leader stays positive and figures out ways to keep the team motivated to solve the problems.

    Walt Disney had his share of hardships and challenges, and like any great leader, he managed to stay positive and find new opportunities. In 1928, Disney found that his film producer, Charles Mintz, wanted to reduce his payments for the Oswald series. Mintz threatened to cut ties entirely if Disney didn’t accept his terms, and Disney chose to part ways. But in leaving Oswald, Disney decided to create something new: the iconic Mickey Mouse[1].

    The key is to break down huge challenges into smaller ones and find ways to tackle them one by one.

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    Think about the lessons you can learn from the mistake and jot them down because sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

    2. Confidence

    All great leaders have to exhibit an air of confidence if they’re going to succeed. Please don’t confuse this with self-satisfaction and arrogance. You want people to look up to you for inspiration, not so they can punch you in the face.

    Confidence is important because people will be looking to you on how to behave, particularly if things aren’t going 100% right. If you remain calm and poised, team members are far more likely to as well. As a result, morale and productivity will remain high, and the problem will be solved more quickly.

    If you panic and give up, they will know immediately and things will simply go downhill from there.

    Elon Musk is a great example of a leader with confidence. He truly believes that Tesla will be successful, which he has shown many times through his actions. He converted 532,000 stock options at $6.63 each, their value on Dec. 4, 2009, before Tesla went public. It was a hefty bargain considering Tesla’s stock price stood at around $195 per share at that time. He doesn’t apologize for his beliefs and has drawn fire from just about everyone for his political actions.

    You can’t instantly become a very confident person, but all the small things you do every day will gradually make you more confident:

    • List 5 things you like about yourself every day (something different every day), and you’ll appreciate yourself more.
    • Work on your strengths and do your best to enhance them.

    3. A Sense of Humor

    It’s imperative for any kind of leader to have a sense of humor, particularly when things go wrong. And they will.

    Your team members are going to be looking to you for how to react in a seemingly dire situation. It would probably be best if you weren’t stringing up a noose for yourself in the corner. You need to be able to laugh things off because if staff morale goes down, so will productivity.

    Establish this environment prior to any kind of meltdown by encouraging humor and personal discussions in the workplace.

    As a president, Barack Obama exuded confidence and calm during stressful situations. But he was also known for his “dad jokes,”[2] his genuinely funny speeches at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and appearing on Zack Galifianakis’s Between Two Ferns.[3] Obama’s sense of humor made him grounded, realistic, and honest, which no doubt helped during some tense moments in the White House!

    Learn to laugh at yourself. Confident people laugh about their own silly mistakes, and when you do this, others will also trust you more because you’re willing to share your experiences.

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    Be observant and learn from the jokes others make. You can also get a lot of inspiration from the internet.

    4. Ability to Embrace Failure

    No matter how hard you try to avoid it, failures will happen; that’s okay. You just need to know how to deal with them.

    Great leaders take them in strides. They remain calm and logically think through the situation and utilize their resources. What they don’t do is fall apart and reveal to their team how worried they are, which leads to negative morale, fear, and binge-drinking under desks.

    Great leaders do, in fact, lead, even when they’re faced with setbacks.

    Henry Ford experienced a major setback after designing and improving the Ford Quadricycle. He founded the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899, but the resulting cars they produced did not live up to his standards and were too expensive. The company dissolved in 1901. Ford took this in stride and formed the Henry Ford Company. The sales were slow and the company had financial problems; it wasn’t until 1903 that the Ford Motor Company was successful and put the Ford on the map.

    Get to the root cause of any problem so you can prevent it from happening again and learn from the mistake.

    By asking “why” 5 times (or more) on why something happened, you can find out the key factor that caused the problem and can find the best solution to tackle the problem.

    You’ll also learn how to prevent this from happening again in the future after finding out a problem’s root cause.

    5. Careful Listening and Feedback

    This is far more complex than it actually sounds. Good communication skills are essential for a great leader. You may very well understand the cave of crazy that is your brain, but that doesn’t mean that you can adequately take the ideas out of it and explain them to someone else.

    The best leaders need to be able to communicate clearly with the people around them. They also need to be able to interpret other people properly and not take what they say personally.

    The Dalai Lama, as a symbol of the unification of the state of Tibet, represents and practices Buddhist values. The Dalai Lama’s leadership is benevolent and aims toward truth and understanding, alongside the other Buddhist precepts. This is a great example for all leaders: if you want to give good directions to others, you have to get feedback from others to understand the situation properly.

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    Encourage communication between team members and establish an open door policy.

    Practice not interrupting team members when they’re talking. Instead, summarize what they say and ask for feedback after you have talked about your ideas.

    6. Knowing How and When to Delegate

    No matter how much you might want to, you can’t actually do everything yourself. Even if you could, in a team environment that would be a terrible idea anyway.

    Good leaders recognize that delegation does more than simply alleviate their own stress levels (although that’s obviously a nice perk). Delegating to others shows that you have confidence in their abilities, which subsequently results in higher morale in the workplace, as well as loyalty from your staff. They want to feel appreciated and trusted.

    Although Steve Jobs was known for focusing in on the smallest of details, he knew how to delegate. By finding, cultivating, and trusting capable team members, Jobs was able to make Apple run smoothly, even when he had to be absent for extended periods of time.

    To know when and how to delegate work to team members, you have to be very familiar with each of them:

    • List out all of their strengths, weaknesses, and personalities.
    • Talk with your team members more to know about their passion and interests.

    Take a look at this guide and learn more about delegation: How to Delegate Work Effectively (The Definitive Guide for Leaders)

    7. Growth Mindset

    Any good leader knows how important it is to develop the skills of those around them. The best can recognize those skills early on. Not only will development make work easier as they improve and grow, it will also foster morale. In addition, they may develop some skills that you don’t possess that will be beneficial to the workplace.

    Great leaders share their knowledge with the team and give them the opportunity to achieve. This is how leaders gain their respect and loyalty.

    Pope Francis has been unusually popular with many Catholics and many non-Catholics. His position isn’t totally traditional, which is part of his appeal, but he also has admirable leadership skills. Pope Francis’s TED talk[4] drew attention because he encouraged leaders to be humble and to demonstrate solidarity with others. This inclusive, kind, and respectful style of leadership is incredibly important for any situation.

    It’s important to spend time talking with other team members individually to understand them.

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    Find out team members’ current challenges and try to give feedback and encouragement so they will grow and do better.

    8. Responsibility

    Great leaders know that when it comes to their company, work place or whatever situation they’re in, they need to take personal responsibility for failure. How can they expect employees to hold themselves accountable if they themselves don’t?

    The best leaders don’t make excuses; they take the blame and then work out how to fix the problem as soon as possible. This proves that they’re trustworthy and possess integrity.

    Howard Gillman is the chancellor of UC Irvine. You might have heard of how the university rescinded a bunch of acceptances, and then changed its mind[5], This past spring, an unusually high number of accepted students decided to matriculate; the school initially responded by rescinding offers over things like missed deadlines. But the college realized this was a mistake and reversed its decision. Gillman and the university accepted responsibility and decided to move past their earlier bad decision.

    Always ask yourself what you can do better or what you should change. Take responsibility and think about what you can do better to prevent this from happening next time.

    9. A Desire to Learn

    It’s safe to say that all great leaders will have to enter unchartered waters at some point during their career. Because of this, they have to be able to trust their intuition and draw on past experiences to guide them.

    Great leaders know that there’s always something to learn from everything they have experienced before. They are able to connect the present challenges with the lessons learned in the past to make decisions and take actions promptly.

    You can either recall what you’ve learned from your memories or search your notes (ideally, a software that you can access anywhere with things well-organized).

    Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world, has mostly made the right calls. But in dealing with huge amounts of money, Buffett has also made several multi-million (and sometimes multi-billion) dollar mistakes. He has stated that buying the company Berkshire Hathaway was his biggest mistake[6]. From that poor choice, he realized that it was unwise to pursue “improvements” and “expansions” in the existing textile industry. Despite mistakes like this, Buffett has invested wisely, and it shows.

    To effectively learn from the past, write down lessons you’ve learned from any mistakes you’ve made. Have all the lessons well organized, and when similar things happen again in future, take these lessons as references.

    The Bottom Line

    Leadership traits are learnable. If you practice consistently, you can be a great leader, too.

    Make small changes to your habits when you work with your team, wherever that may be. Most of us aren’t presidents or CEOs, but we all work with other people, and our actions always impact others. This gives every person the chance to develop leadership skills and to stand out from the crowd.

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    Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com

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