What qualities do great leaders possess?
To be an effective leader, it’s usually assumed that you’ll need to be charismatic, persuasive and courageous.
However, recent research shows that great leaders have very different personalities and qualities that they draw on in achieving their results. What they have in common is an ability to understand and leverage their strengths, abilities and skills – and combine them perfectly to deal with any given situation.
Four steps to finding your edge
To be an authentic and credible leader, you must develop good self-awareness and make the most of who you are at your best. We refer to this as finding your ‘leadership edge’, which is made up of the following aspects:
Have a clear idea of where you are going and the type of legacy you want to leave when you have achieved your ‘picture of success’.
We define strengths as underlying qualities that energise us, contribute to our personal growth and lead to peak performance (Brook and Brewerton, 2006). When a leader is optimising their strengths, they are fully engaged and enjoying what they are doing.
Our values are deeply held beliefs that shape our choices and decision-making. The test of your values is not what you say, but how you act and respond under pressure to things that really matter to you.
Abilities or areas of competence reflect natural or acquired skills or talents. These are areas where you can demonstrate a good level of competence or proficiency at work. Abilities and competencies are different from strengths in that you might not be passionate or energised by these areas.
Become a creature of (new) habit
However, identifying and leveraging your unique leadership edge is not enough. You must also combine the best of who you are with four leadership habits to unlock the energy and full potential of your employees and the organisation. These habits can be learned by any leader through systematic development and opportunities for practice. They are:
- Shaping a clear vision for the organisation
- Sparking engagement and positively stretching people beyond their comfort zone
- Skillfully executing the strategy and goals, ensuring the organisation builds agility to respond appropriately to uncertainty and disturbances in the operating environment
- Sustaining progress, celebrating success and ensuring continuous improvement
Whats blocking your performance?
As well as mastering these leadership habits, you should pay attention to ‘performance risks’, which can undermine your effectiveness if left unchecked. These include limiting weaknesses, overdone strengths (or strengths that are overused or used in the wrong way and cause unintended negative outcomes) and sources of interference. The latter can be either internal – psychological blocks to peak performance, such as self-limiting beliefs and poor self-confidence – or external, such as an incompatible corporate culture or lack of sufficient resources. We advocate three strategies for dealing with such risks: using your own strengths to compensate, bringing in others to complement your weaknesses, and deliberately building new productive habits.
Our experience and recent research findings show that the most effective leaders are masters at the art and science of positive stretch or challenge – they stretch themselves, their people and the organisation at multiple levels (emotional, thinking, relational and execution). They are never standing still. They co-create a compelling ‘picture of success’ with colleagues and key stakeholders, and lead efforts to realise this in the most effective and adaptive way possible. They push the boundaries of thinking and possibility, looking for innovative ways of doing things to achieve the organisation’s goals, while strengthening their own leadership and learning.