As human beings, we have a natural tendency to follow leaders. That’s because we yearn for guidance and direction. Since we were born, most of us have had our parents, relatives, or even teachers showing us the way. Now, as adults, we have more freedom to decide who our leaders could be.
Leaders can come in the form of a college professor, sports coach, or even a good friend, however, most common with those that have “grown up” jobs, it’s usually assigned to an authoritative figure at work. What makes this type of leader ideal is that they can offer up career insight and guide you towards the most suitable path.
But what makes a great leader?
In this article, I’ll discuss the qualities a leader should possess, referencing three top books: The Introverted Leader by Jennifer Kahnweiler, How to Be a Positive Leader by Jane E. Dutton and Gretchen M. Spreitzer, and The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier.
Differences in leadership and management
While it’s common to have your manager as your leader, it’s worth keeping in mind that they are actually two different roles. The job of a leader and the job of a manager are comprised of different responsibilities, skillsets, and expectations. Oftentimes the two positions overlap and are interchangeable, but there are key differences that separate the two from each other.
A manager’s role is to deal with tasks, processes, and delivery, and a leader focuses on people—on influencing, inspiring, and motivating them. It’s common to find in many businesses and organizations one person taking on both roles. If that’s the case, then it’s their duty to not only ensure tasks and projects are executed in a timely and thorough manner, but to also ensure that their team are motivated, going in the right direction, and are developing as employees.
Managers tend to be good at organization, coordinating tasks and projects, and time management. They are also adept at different processes and are great at sticking to budgets and deadlines. A leader doesn’t necessarily have to excel at any of these tasks. Instead, typical traits of a good leader include someone who can command a room, inspire people, and make a notable impact on the company.
Let’s see what else amounts to a successful leader.
3 leadership qualities every great leader must possess
1. You don’t have to be outgoing to lead a team
To be a successful leader you need to possess certain characteristics that will allow you to flourish at your job. Leading a team requires you to understand people and to connect with them. Doing so will allow you to figure out what they need to grow and how they can do it. But your team aren’t the only people you have to connect with. Being a leader often requires a lot of networking and public speaking, so knowing the art of small talk as well as being confident in front of a group of people are must-have skills.
Because of these expectations, the mainstream idea of what would make a good leader is usually someone who is naturally confident and outgoing. You don’t immediately think of introverted personality traits when you hear the term “leadership qualities”. But that doesn’t mean introverts wouldn’t make good leaders!
The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength is a book written by author, global speaker, and “champion for introverts”, Jennifer Kahnweiler, that discusses (you guessed it) leaders with introverted personalities. Her book asserts that while introverts may not be inherently sociable and confident, they too possess qualities that can make great leaders. Good observation skills, strong listening skills, and thinking before speaking are common introvert attributes that a leader should have.
“The power of silence is a characteristic that can serve as a strength,” explains Kahnweiler, “Many people are not comfortable with silence and try to fill the gaps with comments that are off the cuff, whereas the comments made by the introvert can be more thoughtful.” This type of withdrawn attitude can make leaders seem more approachable, which is a great quality to have for developing relationships and making connections with people.
2. Forming close connections is a must
A huge component of being a great leader is your ability to form connections with others. Whether it’s with the team you are leading, associates you network with, or an audience you are presenting to. How to Be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact by Jane E. Dutton and Gretchen M. Spreitzer details how high-quality connections are essential for people to grow, both professionally and personally.
“Today, people struggle to thrive in the workplace,” explains Spreitzer. “High quality connections are one simple key that can enable it to happen as they build trust, allow individuals to be their whole selves by expressing their authentic emotions, and they enable more tensility which allows individuals to bend and adapt, and to learn new things.”
How you act as a leader can play a significant role in creating a positive work environment due to the standard human inclination of treating others the way you are treated. So if you’re a leader that spotlights gratitude, respectful behavior, and an encouraging work environment, then it’s more likely that your team will not only treat you in the same respect, but to each other as well. “High quality connections build positive emotions which are contagious and enable others around them to thrive,” says Spreitzer.
You can know all the collaboration tools and project management methodologies off by heart and you can have every single leadership certificate under the sun, but if you don’t know how to connect with others and manage human relationships, then you have no chance at succeeding as a leader.
3. Work smarter to make a bigger impact
Part of being a leader means being a coach. It’s a skill that every leader worth their salt should possess. Coaching expert, keynote speaker, author, and founder of Box of Crayons, Michael Bungay Stanier highlights the significance of developing a coaching habit in his book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever.
The book highlights how developing a coaching habit can not only guide your team towards self-sufficiency, but it can also allow you to make more of an impact. You don’t need another book to tell you to work harder (everyone knows you’re already working as hard as you can) so Bungay Stanier’s book focuses on how leaders can work smarter. It does this by breaking down the coaching process into seven questions that can help you lead and support. They are:
- What’s on your mind?
- And what else?
- What’s the real challenge here for you?
- What do you want
- How can I help?
- If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
- What was most useful for you?
A good coach spends less time offering up advice and more time asking questions. By asking questions instead of offering up solutions, you are allowing your team to come to their own conclusions. You aren’t force feeding them advice and you’re allowing them to progress at their own pace. While you shouldn’t completely avoid giving out advice, you want your team to become self-sufficient. The aforementioned seven questions can help you get there.
Bungay Stanier stresses that coaching your team should be a regular part of your work day. It shouldn’t take up too much time and it shouldn’t be too conventional. Instead of formal meetings that can take up a lot of everyone’s work day, opt for smaller, informal catch ups. It’s a better use of everybody’s time and that way you are still getting regular feedback and updates from your team.
“Coaching can fuel the courage to step out beyond the comfortable and familiar. It can help people learn from their experiences and can literally and metaphorically increase and help fulfil a person’s potential.”
Leadership is a position that shouldn’t be taken lightly. You have a duty to motivate people, to guide them in the right direction, and to inspire them to thrive in whatever environment they are in. You want to empower your team and you want them to feel as though they can accomplish anything they want.
Jennifer Kahnweiler, Jane E. Dutton and Gretchen M. Spreitzer, and Michael Bungay Stanier’s books all remind us that there’s more to leadership than shelling out advice and knowing how to speak in front of a crowd. It requires you to form high-quality connections, tap into skills that may be undervalued at first, and to make an impact through the way you work.
What do you think are key leadership qualities every great leader should possess?
Dinnie and the Zenkit Team