Leadership qualities to learn

Leadership qualities to learn from real life leaders

To know qualities and characteristics of a good leader, best way is to observe real life leaders and learn from their leadership qualities.

Basic human qualities like integrity or honesty are surely must have in every leader to make them a good human being. But only these basic qualities do not make one a good leader. So what are good leadership qualities?

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”

– John Quincy Adams

A successful leader is a one who is able to lead others towards specific and common achievements.

Leadership qualities must include ability to create, sustain and grow your wilful followers. Lets see below, core leadership qualities along with real life examples of great leaders who are known for these skills.

What are good Leadership qualities we can learn from other leaders 

There are 7 leadership qualities of a good leader. These can also clubbed into 3 core characteristics groups as below.

  • Visionary leadership qualities
    1. Visionary
    2. Courage
    3. Ability to deal with ambiguity
  • Interpersonal and social leadership qualities
    1. Emotional Quotient
    2. Collaboration
  • Motivational leadership qualities 
    1. Influential communication 
    2. People first

Visionary leadership qualities

1) Visionary

Being Visionary is the first and the most powerful leadership quality of any leader. Leaders have a dream. They have a vision. You can not lead and guide others if you don’t have a vision. So vision makes a leader to be future focused.

“Goods business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

– Jack Welch

Only having a vision is not enough. To be a truly visionary, a leader must also be able to clearly share his vision and his dream to inspire people to take action towards it.

As a visionary leader, you should be able to look forward and see where you are headed. This helps to drive your team towards a shared vision. To be a visionary leader, you need to first define a vision and then communicate the vision with the team to take action.

To be able to define a vision for you and your team, you will be required to really think big. So imagine a bigger picture. Remember that no dream is too big and always sky’s the limit. Challenge further whatever big picture you see. Also imagine the benefit your team will get from the bigger picture and find a reason to believe in it.

Once the vision is defined, the next step is to communicate. Plan about when, where and how you will communicate the vision to the team to make a large impact. Rehearse communicating your vision with your team. Imagine any doubts or concerns your team might have and find genuine answers to it. You must be sincere in your communication. Use your vision as a tool to motivate your team and not to dictate. 

Example of Visionary leadership qualities of Nelson Mandela:

Nelson Mandela had a vision of freedom. He was focused on the freedom of South Africa from apartheid system of the government. It was a system of segregation on grounds of race. His vision was much larger than his own freedom. He believed in Freedom for all. He once quoted “I could not even enjoy the poor and limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible. The chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all my people were the chains on me.”

He was arrested on 5th Aug 1962. Following this, he spent a long 30 years in prison. This did not move his focus from the vision of freedom. Once he got released, he set an example of forgiveness to continue to build on his vision of Freedom. The same year of his release from prison, Mandela was elected ANC deputy president, he was further awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He was also elected as South Africa’s first Black president on May 9th, 1994.

Nelson Mandela is among the best real life leaders with visionary leadership quality.

2) Courage

Courage is one of the important leadership qualities which allows a leader to take risks. So, courage separates bold leadership from an ordinary one. Boldness of a leader further inspires and energies his team to take action. 

Courage is the quality that enables a person to face difficulty, danger or pain without fear. As a leader when you are required to be future focused, you have to be ready to deal with unexpected situations. It is your courage, guided by your principles that gives you an ability to take risks or make bold moves in such situations. 

Good leaders do not make random bold moves. Before taking risks, leaders do courageous calculations by weighing benefits vs losses. Such calculations focus on trade-offs and are also guided by core values and principles. They assess the impact of risk associated on their team and also on themselves as a leader. In other words, this is called the process of taking calculated risk.

Example of courageous leadership qualities of Robert Iger:

On october 3rd 2005, Robert Iger became the 6th CEO of the Walt Disney Company. In the first presentation to its board of directors, Robert made a courageous point to buy Pixar from Steve Jobs. He added “I don’t know if they are for sale. If they are, I am certain they will be wildly expensive”. The reason this was a courageous idea, because Disney Animation was in a real mess that time. It had hardly given any memorable character in the last 10 years and had lost around $400 million. On the other hand, Pixar led by Steve had produced success after success. For example Toy Story and monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo.

Cutting short, Disney finally did buy Pixar. This helped them to make a new path and also illuminate Disney Castle with it. Robert did not just stop with Pixar, he further led a few more massive acquisitions like Marvel and Star Wars. His leadership also led expansion of Disney’s theme parks in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

With courageous expansion, Robert Iger is a real life example of a leader with courage.

3) Ability to deal with ambiguity

When you walk the path of achieving dreams, when you work towards a larger vision, when you are future focused, one thing you inherit is ambiguity. So dealing with ambiguity is one of the leadership qualities you need to lead the path which is less travelled. 

Ambiguity always has an element of uncertainty. People always look up to their leaders when faced with ambiguity, when things are not clear. As a leader, you should also be able to decide and act without having the total picture. 

Leaders have to handle the risk that comes with uncertainty. They also need to be comfortable with the risk to be able to take decisions. 

Mckinsey suggests that leaders should act in 3 steps during uncertain times.

  • Clarify or rediscover your purpose.
  • Protect and support your stakeholders.
  • Prioritize resilience in you and your people.
Mary Barra’s Leadership qualities of dealing with ambiguity:

Year 2020 comes with probably the most uncertain times for the world. While most business leaders were trying to assess the situation and dealing with lockdowns imposed by most countries, Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors reacted in a unique way. GM was the first big American automaker to commit its idle assembly lines to the fight against COVID-19. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services further awarded GM a $489 million contract to deliver 30,000 ventilators by the end of August.

Mary Barra is the CEO of General Motors. She sets one of the best examples of leadership quality of ability to deal with ambiguity.

Interpersonal qualities of a good leader

4) Emotional Intelligence

Of all the interpersonal qualities which makes you a better person, Emotional Intelligence helps you to be a better leader. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to effectively manage self and also social relationships. Emotional Intelligence is basically a set of few capabilities as below:

Self awareness:

Self awareness is the ability to understand your own emotions. Your emotions impact your health, your relationships and also your work performance. So reading and understanding your emotions helps you to manage them in a better way.

Self awareness also helps to do an assessment of your strength and weakness. Self aware leaders are able to recognise their strength. So they can better utilise their strength. They are also able to recognise their weakness. This further helps leaders to make self improvement plan.

Lastly, self awareness helps to increase self confidence. High self confidence is a positive sense of your own worth. Before you want people to put their confidence in you, develop high self confidence. Your self confidence will increase by being positive, self awareness and self management.

Self Management:

As a leader, if you want to align people towards a vision and a strategy then first start by aligning yourself.

“Be the change you want to see in the world”

– Mahatma Gandhi

Self management is demonstrating a self control. This helps you to control your action and also your behaviour in a required manner. 

In other words, self management can be termed as self leadership. As a leader, you influence others. Likewise with the concept of self leadership you are able to influence your thoughts and actions. This also helps us to become the best we can.

Social Awareness:

Social awareness is the ability to take perspective of others and empathise with others. This is also the ability to understand social norms for behaviour. Empathy is the key quality required to be socially aware.

Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions. In other words, it makes you to be able to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. This also means taking an active interest in other people’s concerns.

When other people trust you as their leader, it becomes crucial for you to understand their needs and be aware of their feelings and their thinking. Social awareness led by Empathy further helps you to develop a bond with people. It also gives you insights by understanding other people’s point of view.

Remember, This does not mean agreeing to other people’s point of view. It just means you understand where they are coming from and thus, make efforts to understand and maximise everyone’s interest.  

Social Skills:

Leadership requires connecting with different people. In order to connect with everyone, you need to have a set of social skills. Social skills of a leader will help to boost productivity and improve relationships. It also increase general quality of life for the team.

Below are key social skills which becomes important leadership qualities: 

Approachable: Good leaders are always approachable. Being approachable does not only mean making your time available. It goes much beyond that. Make yourself approachable by listening and be open to diverse perspectives. When people leave your office, they should feel heard. 

Conflict Management: Working with more people sometimes comes with its own disadvantage. One of such disadvantages is conflicts. As a leader, you must be able to manage such conflicts effectively.

As per Wikipedia, Conflict management is the process of limiting the negative aspects of conflict while increasing the positive aspects of conflict. The aim of conflict management is to enhance learning and group outcomes. This also improves effectiveness and performance of team.

A leader can learn conflicts management by practising 2 things. Firstly, respect the difference of opinion. Secondly, confront the tension. A leader need not jump on managing conflicts. It’s important for a leader to know boundaries and also understand right timing for conflict management.

Gratitude: Gratitude is the most simple yet one of the most powerful leadership qualities. Leader should learn the power of saying “Thank you”. A good leader never leaves any opportunity to appreciate his team.

Humility: Today’s leader was once a learner. Every leader needed someone to lead him at some point of time. This helped them to learn and to grow as a leader. Leaders should focus on sharing what they have learned.

Example of Barack Obama’s leadership qualities of Emotional Intelligence:

Doris Kearns Goodwin mentioned about emotional qualities of Barack Obama during an interview with a British television station during Jan 2009 as below:

First of all and most important the thing you sense about him is that he has this deep well of self-confidence. And that’s really important. And I think on top of that, he has this spacious intellect. I mean he has not only read a lot but he’s absorbed it. He’s a terrific writer in his own right. He told the narrative of his own life in Dreams From My Father in a beautiful fashion. So that’s going to allow him to communicate to the country in ways that Lincoln was able to in those gorgeous public letters that he wrote to the country or the great speeches that we remember so well.

So I think that there is a special quality to this man. There’s also a reserve in him that allows people to not feel immediately that they know who he is, which is part of the magic of leadership… He sort of stands back and there’s a sense in which he’s listening to what people are saying rather than imposing himself on other people. But in the end he’s the one who gets to make the decisions and become the president of the United States.

If we want to learn Emotional Intelligence as leadership quality then Barack Obama one of the best example.

5) Collaboration 

Collaboration is the number one social skill that business leaders should master. It is the leadership quality that aims to bring all stakeholders within your team and also outside the team together.

Collaborative leaders avoid conflicts and instead promote cooperation. They engage collective intelligence to achieve results. This style promotes a team based and partnership oriented environment.

This quality helps a leader to build a strong network. They facilitate as a connector between different group or team members. This leadership quality also helps to attracts diverse talent in the team.

Traditional leaders practice in “I think, You do” style. On the other hand, collaboration skills encourage a leader to take a completely different approach of “Together we think, together we win”.

Motivational qualities of a good leader

6) Influential Communication

Leaders use their communication skills to capture the attention of other people and thus encourage behavioural change. Leaders know that to motivate action, they need to influence emotions. Emotions can be influenced through effective communication. Influential communication requires the leader to be clear, confident, to the point and to be credible.

Influential communication goes far beyond just saying things or delivering a speech. It is about the objectives you want to achieve. So It is about motivating your team or audiences to act in a specific manner. 

While effective communication requires to influence emotions and behavioural change, you must not lose credibility. In other words, being trustworthy and honest in your communication is as important as it is to motivate your team. 

7) People First 

Reason I kept this leadership quality to last is to emphasize on this as much as we can. When people trust you as their leader, it becomes your moral responsibility to keep their interest first in whatever action you do.

Author Simon Sinek explains this as below in his book “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t”. Simon explains what it mean to be a leader when he says:

Leaders put their own interests aside to protect us or to pull us into the future. Leaders choose to go first into danger, headfirst towards the unknown. And when we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers.

– Simon Sinek in his book: “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t”

When you approach leadership with authority, management acumen, being in charge, chances are your team might not go much longer with you. You also risk reducing your follower base over a time.  

How do you know that you are keeping your people first as a leader? Let your people judge this instead of you answering this question.

Leaders are people oriented when their team:
  • knows the role their work has to play to achieve a larger vision.
  • has a sense of autonomy.
  • has the ability to develop self.
  • Feel heard whenever they approach their leader.

People first leaders enjoy the highest trust from their team. So the team also becomes a highly productive team. Author Eduardo Braun explains this in his book “People First Leadership: How the Best Leaders Use Culture and Emotion to Drive Unprecedented Results”. This book is also about how do you fire your people up for success. The book was inspired by personal interviews with leaders like Jack Welch, Bill Clinton, George Lucas, Madeleine Albright, Pope Francis, and others.

Example of “People First” leadership qualities of Jim Parker:

After 9/11 when most airlines were slashing jobs, Southwest airlines under leadership of its CEO Jim Parker, was the only airline, did not cut salaries, only airline did not layoff its employees and the only airline offered unconditional “no questions asked” refund to its customers. Under the leadership of Jim Parker, Southwest airlines became one of America’s 100 best corporate citizens. It also became one of the world’s most socially responsible companies and worldwide airline of the year.

Jim Parker becomes our real life leader with people first as leadership quality.

A good leadership is ultimately about others. Leadership is about inspiring others to take actions beyond their capabilities. Above examples helps us to understand what are good leadership qualities. To summarise, leadership is leading others in a direction that is compelling and inspiring.

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