While theories abound about what makes great leaders, they do share common traits
Former presidents, prominent military leaders, CEOs, academics and consultants of every stripe have written books about what it takes to be an exceptional leader.
It’s worth finding out. While theories abound about what makes a great leader, it’s been proven that there is no guaranteed path preparing for it, and there aren’t a finite number of qualifications all great leaders share. But, there are traits common to great leaders.
In Jack: Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch, the superstar CEO who ran GE for 20 years defined leadership not by traits but by a model for success, which he called the “4 E Model.” Here are Welch’s four E’s:
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1. Energy. Leaders are high-energy people. Every day, they unfailingly get up and move at warp speed, displaying the commitment to achieve and win.
2. Energizers. True leaders have a knack for inspiring and exciting others to perform and excel. They outline a vision and get people to carry it out. But they never take credit for anyone else’s ideas.
3. Edge. This is Welch’s word for “competitive.” Leaders learn how to make difficult decisions, whether they’re hiring, firing or promoting someone. They never allow the degree of difficulty to stand in their way.
4. Execute. Without measurable results, the other E’s are of little use, according to Welch. Executers recognize that activity and productivity are not the same, and they are capable of converting energy and edge into action and results.
Antony Bell, author of Great Leadership: What It Is and What It Takes in a Complex World, lists the following 10 traits of leadership, plus suggestions for building each one.
Do you have any of these?
1. Well-defined worldview. You can articulate your standards for right and wrong. You have a sense of purpose, and you are the source of your own authority.
2. Self-aware. You recognize your limitations as well as your abilities.
3. Clear moral compass. Every decision you make is guided by proven universal values and ethics. The most obvious include integrity, equity, justice, commitment, trustworthiness, fidelity, loyalty, humility, industriousness and respect.
4. Humble. There is a selfless part of you that sincerely enjoys helping and guiding others.
5. Thirst for growth. Not to be confused with a hunger for power. Great leaders are committed to lifelong learning.
6. Self-disciplined. Willing to work hard on improving yourself.
7. Focused. The ability to articulate a clear sense of direction and maintain that direction.
8. Considerate of others. Not to be confused with being nice, caring for others involves a willingness to sacrifice for the well being of others.
9. Courageous. Great leaders have guts and the ability to take calculated risks to achieve goals.
10. Good communicator. The ability to paint compelling pictures with words.
Executive coach and author Marjorie Brody adds an additional four traits, which she says superstar leaders Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch and Oprah Winfrey share.
1. Admit mistakes. Effective leaders understand the impact of an apology on mending fences and moving forward.
2. Stay close to the action. True leader’s go out of their way to be an active presence in their industry. They never rest on their laurels.
3. Celebrate success. By the same token, accomplished leaders have the good sense to pause and celebrate their victories – not so much for themselves, but for their followers and their supporters because it builds morale and commitment.
4. Trust is a priority. Ethical leaders build trust and support by being candid, truthful and consistent. To accomplish that, they have to be visible and approachable during both good and hard times.
Do you share some or all of the above traits? If you do, develop and hone them. Look at the careers of the super-achievers in your field.
Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.
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