There’s no easy answer for how to be a good leader. Different approaches work for different individuals, but if we look at some of the notable leaders of the past and present there is, unsurprisingly, distinct characteristics they all share.
Aristotle spoke of courage as the first virtue. Many speak of it as the backbone of leadership. Leaders need to be decisive yet inclusive, innovative yet reasoned, selfless yet confident – all of which takes courage.
The good news is that courage can be learned, according to author, speaker and CEO of Giant Leap Consulting, Bill Treasurer.
Curiosity is not only a prelude to foresight, but also identifies threats and opportunity, and seeks out areas for improvement. It took curiosity for Alexander to explore and conquer Macedonia; for Sir Isaac Newton or Stephen Hawking to question the natural world around them and lead the way to understanding.
A good leader takes an active interest in the world around them. They have an appetite for knowledge and are always asking questions, always learning, always experiencing, and as such are always expanding their awareness.
3. Confident body language
Communication expert Lisa Marshall notes that leaders aren’t always the most intelligent or strongest people in a group, rather those whose body language and charisma draws people in and have the ability to hold the attention of an entire room.
This very balance of demonstrating confidence not cockiness, while remaining approachable, is a tactic by leaders to encourage others to take interest.
Humility encompasses so much more than altruism; it’s about having integrity, being accountable, honest, admitting when you’re wrong, and above all, making those around you feel valued.
A good leader understands that by practising humility themselves, others will be more willing to go beyond the call of duty knowing their efforts will be recognised and appreciated.
Ted Talk speaker and best selling author of Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek says those leaders willing to ‘eat last’ are rewarded with “deeply loyal colleagues who are driven to advance the desired vision.”
For better or worse, decisions shape history just as much as the people themselves do. Decision making would be easy had we all the time and resources to put into it, but in many situations decisions need to be made instantaneously and under pressure.
Good leaders possess the power to block out background noise and “interpret situations with rational and emotional intelligence” says Bill Treasurer.
A good leader is unremitting. That’s not to say they try the same thing over and again or endlessly pursue dead ends, but rather try different approaches until they achieve what they set out to. Where others would be understood or even forgiven for backing out, good leaders keep at it.
According to Gordon Tredgold of Leadership Principles, persistence “sets the tone of how our teams and departments react when facing adversity,” and therefore influences how many objectives become missions complete.
A leader must trust in their team’s capabilities. Empowerment is a less authoritarian style of leadership than delegation; it still encompasses assigning who to what role, but then it’s about trusting employees to perform their tasks. Team morale is heightened when individuals feel depended upon for their unique responsibilities.
Passion reveals itself in various forms, but the common denominator in every case is inexorable commitment. Forbes contributor and author of Leading So People Will Follow, Erika Anderson notes that “passion isn’t a wild, loud, take-noprisoners quality. True passion requires honestly committing to something about which you feel deeply, and staying committed through difficult circumstances.”
“A good leader takes an active interest in the world around them. They have an appetite for knowledge and are always asking questions, always learning, always experiencing, and as such are always expanding their awareness.”
9. Strong work ethic
A good leader is a hard working leader who organises their time so as no second is wasted. They achieve higher productivity than the average worker – meeting benchmarks before anticipated and ticking off goals at an accelerated rate.
A leader’s work ethic also sets the benchmark for others.
10. A sense of humour
It’s all very well to be serious about what you do, but a good leader recognises the need for humour, both inside the workplace and out.
Many people find comfort in humour and by appropriately using humour, a leader becomes more relatable, staff are more inclined to open up and any potential problems are likely detected in advance.
A study by Bell Leadership Institute found that a strong work ethic and a good sense of humour were the two most desirable traits in leaders.
By Lydia Truesdale