My lifelong fascination with leadership led me to write my book, Every Leader’s Reality Guide, and leadership also features in many of my published blogs. Over the years I have observed many competent and capable leaders in many walks of life and I wondered what personal characteristics they might have in common.
There are different styles of good leadership deriving from the particular traits of the leader but they all have some underlying traits which are common in all competent leaders who are supported and admired by followers. Indeed, the best leaders will have worked at perfecting their skills while managing their perceived faults and failings. Leadership is a career, and as is the case with all dedicated careerists there is no ending to self-evaluation and self-improvement.
It follows therefore that one essential trait common to all good leaders is their self-awareness and their ability to self-evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and committing to perfecting their leadership skills . The unexamined life is not worth living – Socrates. Self-aware leaders will learn from their mistakes and successes. They will want to self-improve so they are committed to lifelong learning. Genuine self-awareness will encourage humility which, in turn, will encourage leaders towards servant-type leadership.
A common trait of competent leaders is their levels of emotional intelligence. Such leaders demonstrate real, genuine empathy which leads to effective and sustainable relationships. They connect meaningfully with people: they have the ability to understand the perspective of others, thereby building empathetic relationships which tend to endure. In this way they can influence people because followers have confidence in a leader who appears to understand them. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world – Barack Obama.
Emotional intelligence also means that competent leaders are those who can manage their emotions: they react to challenges with self-control and they stay calm, focused and composed whatever the challenge they might face. Instead of panicking or over-reacting they tend to be solution-orientated because they view obstacles as challenges to be overcome. They tend not to wilt because they have have consolidated their personal strengths with good levels of resilience and are better able to quickly bounce back from adversity.
Leading in adverse situations is what also distinguishes competent leaders. Their self-belief leads to self-growth and self-confidence. Competent leaders think matters through and their focus on solutions means they tend to be flexible and adaptable. Competent, resilient leaders are confident, self-assured leaders but are not arrogant. Their self-assurance, conviction and self-belief springs from their genuine sense of purpose and strategic mindset.
Competent leaders are genuinely believable and trustworthy and need to be if they are to inspire others. Their credibility is sustained by their authenticity; they are viewed as honest and transparent. Competent leaders tend to be effective communicators because they are good listeners. Their empathetic nature is reflected in their genuine verbal and non-verbal communication with their colleagues and followers.
Then there are leaders who think they are competent but are, in fact, toxic leaders who have little self-awareness, are often excessively narcissistic and arrogant. They can often be aggressive, impulsive or dictatorial and motivated by self-interest. They may believe they are efficient or effective in their leadership styles but they do not command the respect and trust required for competent leadership.
The leaders with the greatest impact are those with high levels of trust and integrity who can demonstrate genuine humility and show they truly care for others. Humility is about self-awareness and self-awareness helps leaders learn from mistakes. The best, most competent leaders will all show these qualities. Position may confer power but it is not an automatic pass to competent leadership.
Perhaps the recent US Presidential election provided opportunities to compare and contrast styles of leadership- one candidate revealing little emotional intelligence, narcissistic personality traits, deep insecurities and a divisive leadership style reminiscent of a mob boss. The other candidate clearly showed empathy, spoke from the heart, appearing to be a conciliatory bridge-builder and a team player inspired by deep personal values. Despite these polar opposite traits both were capable communicators promoting entirely different personal brands.
We follow and support our leaders because we aspire to improve ourselves, our communities, our organisations or our nations. Leaders will communicate their visons of a better future for some or for all. The best and most competent leaders are surely those who have convictions and values, who inspire and unite, show empathy and concern and who make us better people. We are more trusting of leaders who show genuine compassion, who offer stability and who give us hope. In short, the best leaders will be those with vision, integrity, empathy, courage, humility and determination. The most competent will be those who also retain the trust of their colleagues and followers.
If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you are an excellent leader. – Dolly Parton.