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The 5 Essential Characteristics of Great Leadership

Posted by Michael VanErdewyk

What are the essential characteristics of great leadership?

There are many answers. Not all of them jibe with one another, but we’ve seen a few key themes emerge consistently.

1. EQ: Great leadership requires great humbleness. In fact, a high EQ (emotional quotient) is as essential to achieving and maintaining success as a leader as IQ. Why? Because great leaders have deep empathy – the innate ability to understand the emotions felt by your team members, your colleagues or your boss – and to adjust their reaction to those circumstances.

2. Listening: Great leaders listen a lot and speak even less. The ability to listen is among the most important skills any leader can possess. You may not always agree with what an employee says or, for that matter, what a superior says, but listening closely enables you to smartly and effectively argue your case. If you’re the leader and you’ve heard your employee out, he or she will respect your final decision. If you’re the employee, even if you still disagree with the final decision, by listening you’ll know what your boss wants/needs and how he or she responds to your input. “When you become a leader,” Jack Welch has noted, “success is all about growing others.”

3. Motivating: Moving others to action can be accomplished through humor, collaboration and patience. Great business leaders of our era empower the success of their teams, in part, by taking a back seat, removing obstacles and letting others do their jobs as they see fit. Empowerment is one of the silent leaders that clears the path for a team’s success. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more,” John Quincy Adams noted, “you are a leader.”

4. Risk Embracing: Engendering a risk-embracing attitude in others results in outside-in thinking for bold initiatives and yes, occasionally, failures as well. And a corporate culture that accepts failure as part of the path to success, that stands taller than ever in the face of failure, is a corporate culture that allows its employees to grow and thrive. In fact, the fastest way to success – for an individual or company – is… failure. “Success,” said former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, “is the result of perfect, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence.”

5. Multifaceted: Leaders are generally leaders for a reason. They’re charismatic, honorable, determined, professional, positive, tough and nurturing, in various combinations. Sometimes there’s no putting a finger on it, but everyone knows who the leader is, especially at crunch time. And good leaders know how to choose good soldiers, some of whom they can shape into future, fellow leaders. General George S. Patton once put it this way: “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

Those are my thoughts about the essentials of leadership. Now, consider these comments from some of the world’s most-respected, well-known and/or charismatic figures:

Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men–the other 999 follow women. – Groucho Marx (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)

A leader… is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind. – Nelson Mandela

A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be. – Rosalynn Carter

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I leave you with a few of my favorite books on leadership:

Leadership is an Art by Max Depree
Leading with the Heart by Coach Mike Krzyzewski
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
The Tao of Leadership by John Heider
The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
Good Leaders Ask Great Questions by John C. Maxwell

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