Leadership | April 9, 2015
the 5 traits of truly great leaders
By irelis arias
Henry Ford, Eleanor Roosevelt, Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz, Sandra Day O’Connor, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayer …
Each of these individuals is practically a household name. They’re all inspired entrepreneurs who have left a mark in their various fields, all because they possess that certain “something” that fuels leadership.
How did they get there? After all, many of our greatest leaders are made, not born. What do these ground-breaking individuals have in common – and how can we apply those traits to the leadership and management in our own businesses?
More often than not, the most effective leadership involves a delicate balance of performance (action) and emotional intelligence (intuition). Let’s look more closely at the top five traits the most successful leaders share:
1. Calm under pressure
“Nothing gives a person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.”
What started as a motivational poster by the British government in anticipation of World War II captures it perfectly: Keep Calm and Carry On. Every business will experience rough patches and times of uncertainty, but it’s how leaders handle the upheaval that makes all the difference. Time-tested leaders will navigate the choppy waters with a clear head and steady temperament. They know they must exercise self-control at all times, which means no yelling, overreacting, or losing their cool. Plus, by exhibiting poise and confidence, leaders help the workforce manage their own feelings of uneasiness and stress during challenging times.
2. Integrity and upstanding character
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
We live in an increasingly complex and divisive world, rife with political, moral, and cultural concerns. Now, more than ever, employees are seeking a safe haven in their workplace where they can look up to leaders who are honest, fair, and steadfast. In addition to earning admiration through their strong individual character, great leaders foster a culture that trains, promotes, and empowers its employees. A fair and inclusive leader banishes discrimination, harassment, and favoritism and, instead, encourages diversity, growth, and opportunity. Further still, the best leaders keep a tight rein on their reputation and how they’re perceived. They know that to be an upstanding leader, they must strive for respect – not popularity.
3. Focus on teamwork
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
The notion of brilliant, eccentric geniuses working in total seclusion may be popular in Hollywood blockbusters but it rarely plays out in the real world. Or if the inspiration starts in a garage (a la Steve Jobs), the path to success is then paved with partners and like-minded peers. Forming cohesive teams and groups is absolutely essential to getting things done. According to organizational psychologist Adam Grant, there are three types of people in the world: givers (those who help others), takers (those who help themselves), and matchers (those who seek equal benefit for themselves and others). Guess which group is the most successful? That’s right, the givers. By bringing out the best in others, givers help secure their own success. “Givers are often looking at the people around them as diamonds in the rough,” says Grant.
4. Unwavering commitment and resilience
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Again, setbacks are inevitable in business. Strong leaders remain committed when they truly believe in the company’s vision and goals, no matter what the circumstances. Every stumbling block becomes a lesson learned and opportunity for improvement. In addition to bouncing back from a shakeup, a great leader is willing to shoulder the blame and take whatever actions are necessary to fix the situation. It’s not them vs. you. Put another way, it’s “Share the credit, take the blame.” We don’t have to look any further than our favorite sports team for a perfect example of this in action. When a team loses a game, a truly committed coach explains how “we” didn’t perform “our” best. And then, that coach is quick to talk about what they’ll do to win the next game.
5. Excellent communication skills
“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”
It should come as no surprise that great leaders are also exceptional communicators. They’re able to convey their ideas with clarity and impact. Just as important as the information they’re sharing is the way they’re sharing it. By speaking candidly and connecting with their employees on an emotional level, they’re more likely to be understood and supported. And like with any relationship, proper communication is a two-way process that involves listening. As technology, multitasking, and limited attention spans threaten real human interaction, dedicated leaders will eliminate distractions to give their full attention to every conversation. And let’s not forget that effective leaders will create channels—an open door policy, even—to allow others to confide in them and provide feedback.
Whatever the industry, field, or profession, there’s no single way to lead as every individual brings his or her own unique qualities to the mix. But with the right combination of talent, determination, and interpersonal skills, those in positions of power can advance from getting by to being great.