“Leadership is understanding people and involving them to help you do a job.” Admiral Arleigh Burke
How can you and I possibly use this?
Traits of a great leader
Admiral Burke went further: “Leadership is understanding people and involving them to help you do a job. That takes all of the good characteristics, like integrity, dedication of purpose, selflessness, knowledge, skill, implacability, as well as determination not to accept failure.”
One of the privileges I have in my life is that I mix with many business people of many ages and different positions of responsibility. I regularly ask groups to list what they consider to be the characteristics and traits of a great leader. Very quickly, they came up with a list. Here are the things that the most recent group came up with:
Appreciates people, visionary, setting great examples, integrity, the great listener, enthusiastic, passionate, clear purpose, charisma, credible, patient, consistent, empowering, professional, trusting, great role model, builds teams, sympathetic, delegates, clear minded, firm but fair, inspiring.
This is typical of the list of attributes given by many groups which I have asked over the years.
Take note of the types of characteristics which are almost exclusively listed and which Admiral Burke also listed. All of them relate to the so-called “soft” characteristics of leadership – the human side. Some people disparage this type of characteristic, calling it “touchy-feely”. Dare I say that the leaders who disparage might possibly recognise that they have a certain weakness or tendency towards the harder side? Notice that the list given by the leaders excludes this harder side. Words such as “tough”, “angry”, “vindictive”, “short-tempered”, “stern”, “serious” are all missing from the list. In fact, they are rarely given after such a question. In my opinion these harder characteristics are the refuge for those who either cannot or do not have the strength to implement the human side of leadership in any consistent way.
Having led some very large organisations and also having worked for some great bosses, in my opinion, these characteristics are to be looked up to rather looked down on. They are rarer and more difficult to achieve than the so-called hard characteristics such as “tough”, “controlling” or “ruthless”. I am also firmly of the opinion that people can learn to adjust their behaviour in order to become better leaders.
I am an engineer and I like to measure things. I admit that it’s not easy to measure characteristics such as these. One thing is for sure, if you ask people right across your organisation, you will find that they come up with similar lists and very few will include the hard traits on their list. If you carry out such a survey, you will easily be able to measure how you and your organisation shape up.
The difficult bit…
Now comes the difficult bit. How do you rate yourself as a leader, benchmarked against the characteristics and traits of a great leader which are given by nearly everybody who is asked?
If you carried out an independent survey of the people who report to you, how would you rate? Would the traits from the soft list outweigh the ones from the hard list? And the big and searching question is “Would you be a more effective leader if you improved on any of the “soft” characteristics? What about the others in your organisation? What about your managers?
Nowhere to hide
There is no getting away from it. People want and will follow leaders who are respectful, polite and have genuine empathy. They want leaders to show them the way, to walk with them when the path is difficult. Above all, they will follow leaders who have character and a strong vision!
You may already be a really great leader, and there are doubtless many around. It’s still well worth auditing the leadership in your organisation. Imagine the difference that really effective leaders will make to an organisation!
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