The annals of history have been illuminated by tales of inspirational leaders, from William the Conqueror and Robert the Bruce to political stalwarts such as the great Winston Churchill. These individuals, though separated by thousands of years and the opportunism of circumstance, retained several key attributes that are inherent among all great leaders. Given that gifted leaders often emerge during times of austerity such as war or famine, however, the absence of these circumstances in developed economies has made it difficult for truly inspirational individuals to stand out in modern times.
This may explain the perceived lack of genuine leaders in 2014, although another argument could also be extended. A recent study by Dale Carnegie Training revealed that nearly 75% of modern-day employees were not fully engaged at work, with a lack of leadership from supervisors and management cited as one of the primary reasons for this. If this is to be taken at face value, it suggests that many of today’s leaders lack the necessary skills and natural attributes to inspire those around them on a daily basis.
With this debate in mind, it is worth considering how the accepted traits of great leaders may be translated into everyday actions and decision making in the contemporary age. Consider the following things that a genuinely inspirational leader does on a daily basis.
1. They communicate in a straightforward and direct manner.
While many of the historical great leaders have inspired through example, communication is also a crucial weapon if you are to motivate those around you. The finest leaders strive to communicate in a direct and straightforward manner at all times, without ever alienating their staff or creating unnecessary friction. Although this is an easily acquired skill, it also requires an innate ability to listen to those around you and articulate thoughts into understandable words and actions. Whether delivering good or bad news, this philosophy encourages mutual trust and helps to establish productive, long-term relationships.
2. They delegate tasks to trusted associates.
There is a romantic ideal which suggests that great leaders tend to stand alone, but this is often far from the truth. The majority of inspirational leaders have relied on a strong and trusted support network, whether you consider the loyal armies that followed monarchs such as Henry Tudor into battle or the political aides that helped great Presidents like John F. Kennedy to effect social change. The same principle applies today, as the very best leaders place faith in their closest allies and delegate tasks so that they can remain focused on executing a single, overall strategy.
3. They put people in the right and appropriate duty.
Great leaders have an innate ability to think analytically, and develop strategies that create a purposeful and motivated team. More specifically, they are able to analyze a group of employees or associates and distinguish between the members who offer value and those who do not. Beyond this, great leaders also ensure that roles are handed out appropriately so that each individual can maximize their own potential. This is part of a continual process, and one which aids the accomplishment of independent and team-orientated goals.
4. They demonstrate the presence of a clear and concise plan.
The ability to communicate directly, delegate and think analytically helps to inspire trust in others, and this forms the cornerstone of effective leadership. It is also important that every action or decision is taken with a clearly defined goal in mind, as this strengthens the faith that each individual or team of people has in your leadership credentials. While the strategies that you use to achieve your goals can be constantly adapted to suit your needs, you must remain focused on a fixed final objective and demonstrate this strength of will to those around you.
5. They host regular and meaningful one-to-ones.
In a commercial environment, managers often carry out one-to-ones with individual employees in an attempt to review their performance and develop personal growth plans for the future. While this is a worthwhile exercise in theory, it means little unless the interaction is meaningful and allows both parties involved to express themselves confidently. Great leaders use one-to-ones as a medium to communicate openly and regularly with their subjects, in an environment that empowers people to find their voice and share their opinions without trepidation.
6. They actively manage conflicts when necessary.
In between scheduled one-to-ones, leaders may also be required to mediate and resolve conflicts in their team. This is a far more challenging exercise, as conflict tends to be emotive and therefore generates high levels of feeling between the aggrieved parties. Great leaders face these challenges every single day, and use their natural authority to create a calm and productive environment where people can share their views honestly and constructively. By using their natural communication skills to listen and empathize, they can arrive at a fair compromise which satisfies all parties involved.
7. They exhibit leadership maturity at all times.
The ability to mediate and resolve conflict is an example of leadership maturity, which is crucial for anyone who aims to gain respect and credibility in a management role. Great leaders understand that this must be exhibited at all times, and used to influence every single decision, action and strategy that they execute. Having maturity as a leader will ensure that you conduct yourself with dignity even during challenging times, whether you are forced to deliver bad news or make a decision that has a negative impact on your subjects. For an example, you need look no further that the former U.S. President George Washington, who was renowned for his enduring dignified and composed manner.
8. They understand the value of “siege mentality.”
While the term “siege mentality” hardly sounds positive, it has tremendous relevance when applied to leadership. It is a philosophy which has been utilized by sporting management icons, such as former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who would often use high profile defeats and subsequent media criticism to strengthen his players resolve and draw them together as a more unified group. This has considerable merits in commercial leadership, as it can encourage employees to improve their performance and levels of collaboration to help drive companies forward in a challenging market.
9. They plan ahead for the future.
Great leaders share a great deal in common with entrepreneurs, as they often have unusually high levels of courage and are able to inspire others in the pursuit of a common goal. Another key attribute that unifies these demographics is their vision and capacity for forward planning as they strive to establish a durable legacy for the long-term future. Great leaders are always motivated by effecting change long after they have gone, and constantly plan for a time when they are no longer able to take the helm.
10. They learn and develop as individuals.
Perhaps the single greatest attribute that unifies great and inspirational leaders is their level of drive, which enables them to maintain progress even during times of austerity. These characteristics also inspire them to be proactive when pursuing knowledge and personal development, as they constantly want to learn and improve as individuals. Through an insatiable appetite for life and a willingness to reflect on their own performance every single day, great leaders continually evolve and achieve new heights as they grow older.