In this post we will highlight the traits of successful leaders. As I’ve commented previously in The 7 Attributes of Leadership, when I have to evaluate someone for hiring, I always try to identify leadership qualities, because people with such traits perform and coordinate a lot better than simple people. In short, what I look for is people with potential, people who is hungry for more, people able to grow and evolve. And these people can be identified because they have the traits or characteristics of leaders. Besides, as time goes by, these traits will also strengthen the leader’s role in the company. Therefore, we have to know that a successful leader is…
- A hard worker: Leaders must show a strong commitment to work, they should lead by example, work hard (and harder and hardest), and verify that their groups stay focused on the proper tasks and are always moving towards the business’ goals. Leading by example is especially important: leaders can’t request further commitment from their groups unless they lead by example. However, leading by example doesn’t mean that leaders should end up micromanaging and usurping their teams’ tasks. Working hard is the best way to lead by example, but everyone in the organization must work on their level, according to their responsibilities. And you, as a leader, must distribute tasks in a proper fashion. On the other hand, a leader should be able to live a balanced life, to reconcile his professional career with other roles (familiar, social, etc.) Successful leaders must demonstrate to their employees that it is perfectly possible to harmonize a very dedicated professional attitude with a rich private life. The excitement, the energy, the illusion that requires a successful leadership stems only from a rich, entertaining and varied personal lifestyle. In summary, a successful leader is a person who knows how to enjoy life’s pleasures.
- Persevering: True leaders set realistic goals. A realistic goal is accessible and can be achieved in a reasonable time span. Leaders should avoid dispersing their energy: they should focus all of their energy on two or three well-defined and realistic goals. Successful leaders know that higher goals might be difficult to achieve in a short time span, and therefore, they lead their team to advance little by little, step by step, towards the great goal. True leaders know that success stems from sustained effort. Obstacles faced by organizations are numerous: only perseverance will allow to succeed in the long run. Therefore, leaders must also promote resilience within the organization. Resilience and perseverance are intertwined: the idea is to keep going further, no matter the adversities (sometimes, of course, we have to alter our approaches, but the idea is to never give up and go little by little, conquering small goals in each step.)
- Flexible: Energy flows continually, systems fight against entropy, everything changes. Today’s facts may turn useless tomorrow. Leaders have to be aware of the dynamics of energy and systems around them. Flexibility means adaptation, and adaptation, in turn, means intelligence. Furthermore, employees have their own criteria and sometimes their criteria might be more accurate than the leader’s. Those leaders who are always entrenched in their opinions are doomed to fail, and convey an aura of arrogance that will lose them the sympathy of their groups. Real leaders are not afraid to change their point of view or accept the opinion of a subordinate: that’s no sign of weakness. On the contrary, it would project an image of an open person… flexible leaders will increase their prestige among employees. In this case, though, balance is also a key issue. Being flexible does not mean you will always change your point of view to match your subordinates’ opinion. Being flexible means to listen. Successful leaders listen to everybody, then make a decision. Summarizing, flexibility amounts to sensing your environment (listening, observing, reading), followed by a proper adaptation.
- Self-controlled: Leaders are the referents of an organization, and as such they should be able to control their emotions, especially in difficult times. Successful leaders must appeal to their resilience, in order to endure and overcome negative events (if leaders fall, the entire organization will likely collapse.) The leader has to be strong, capable of displaying and conveying serenity and tranquility in the hardest times. Remember that leaders largely determine the mood of an organization, and if the leader is optimistic, lively, and energetic, the organization will be in the mood to overcome adversities. If, however, the leader is pessimistic or depressed (and he shows his gloomy mood), the organization will sink. Successful leaders learn (through experience) how to “bounce back” and cope with stress and adversity. This is a skill which should be honed from early stages, and valued as gold.
- Prudent: Albeit leaders are willing to take risks, they should nevertheless be prudent. Their decisions will determine the fate of their organization, the welfare of many families depends on them, and thereby they can not afford to act irresponsibly. A successful leader knows the strengths and weaknesses of his organization, respects his opponents, and know how to assess the organization’s resources. Leaders reconcile their long-term vision of the company goals and the little steps taken everyday, he also evaluates the difficulties that will be faced, and the effort that will be requested to the organization’s members. He also knows his own limitations. That way, after a rigorous and logical analysis, leaders take decisions. Successful leaders have to fight against deification, because an excess of self-sufficiency might lead to losing prudence, and taking poor decisions.
- Just: Successful leaders must be righteous people. Remember that no team is perfect because we humans are no perfect beings. Therefore, sooner or later internal conflicts will appear within the leader’s workgroup. Ideally, such conflicts should be anticipated and prevented because they might lead to comparative grievances. However, to cope with internal issues, a leader must act according to his sense of justice. Leaders must recognize the strengths and weaknesses of their employees, and should be just, for requesting and also for rewarding. A true leader will not tolerate injustice within a workgroup.
- Charismatic: A leader is a close and warm person. This trait is essential to gain the respect of the team members, and even more important, their trust. Charisma is the best quality to communicate this message: trust me. True leaders are totally serious about their work, they should be demanding and rigorous. However, leaders appeal to their authority with kindness, in a simple and natural way, always concerned about their people. Regarding this, I think that the attitude of many senior managers (not leaders), who are always haughty, cold and distant, is quite absurd and counterproductive.
- Accessible: A leader must be a person available to any member of the organization. Leaders decide how the energy flows within the organization. As such, they have to listen to everybody, they have to know what’s the energetic state of each member (desires, goals, limitations, and so on.) If you want the organization to be with you, you have to understand that, in the end, you’re one of them too. Why accessibility matters? Because a distant leader is not able to motivate as effectively as an accessible one. Motivation is the key to release each employee’s potential, and you have to be there for motivating them. An organization is doomed if its members turn indifferent to their leader. So, be accessible to your employees.
- Humble: Humility means recognizing your limitations, to know how to listen and ask for advice, to recognize your mistakes and the successes of others. Humility is not a sign of weakness, but of realism, feet well on the ground. Humility helps to gain and keep the respect of the team. Arrogant leaders will be rejected, sooner or later. Keep in mind, however, that a humble leader lacks arrogance, not aggressiveness.
- Generous: Generosity is essential for every leader. Employees have placed their trust in their leader, and the future of the organization depends on the leader’s decisions. However, never forget that employees are also concerned about their personal situation. A professional relationship is not only a transaction in which the worker contributes to work for wages, career, learning, recognition, etc. Successful leaders set professional relationships on a higher level: the human level. True leaders demand a lot of work, but they also reward proportionally. These excellent leaders are generous in rewards, recognitions and awards.
- Educated: The leader should worry about personal development, to achieve a high level of culture. The leader will have to deal with many people, speaking in public, plenty of meetings, attend visitors, etc. At all times, in all these instances, a leader should know how to act freely (leaders are, after all, the visible representation of a company.) Knowledge is a source of ideas, many of which can be applied in the management of your organization. Knowledge is power.
- Hungry for more knowledge: A successful leader is a person who likes to explore, to learn from people. This state of mind impulses leaders to be constantly researching new alternatives, to contrast modern and classic approaches to problem-solving, to research the state of the art of their knowledge fields… what best leaders want is to stay ahead of the rest. In today’s highly competitive world, conformist people become obsolete in the blink of an eye.
- Endowed with a nice sense of humor: Humor is essential in life, and is especially useful in times of difficulty. People trust more easily in those who are able to see the funny side of life. Leaders who abuse seriousness and formalities hardly manage to generate excitement among their employees. Obviously, a leader has to state clearly that there are times for formalities and there are times for relaxation and humor, because leaders who are permanently joking will lose the respect of their team.
- Optimistic: Optimism is contagious, and it spreads to the rest of the organization. The optimist is a person who is not afraid of difficulties, who sees perfectly that most obstacles can be overcome. Optimistic leaders act with a level of audacity that allows them to achieve some goals that a normal person does not even think of. Moreover, an optimistic leader recovers quickly from failures and is always looking ahead. Optimism, then, is a support for the previously discussed resilience. Further, optimism is a key aspect of a good planning: it will allow you to see clearly the good and bad possibilities. Be optimistic, be realistic, anticipate the little problems because they turn bigger.
- Physically fit: Leaders have to follow a healthy lifestyle, doing sports, watching their diet, and enjoying a proper rest. It is the only way to give 100% at work. Furthermore, leaders must be energetic people: they distribute energy within their organization, and they will face huge challenges and will follow even huger goals. Hence, leaders must replenish they energy, continuously. They must take care of their health. Tired leaders are easily swallowed up by the organizational maelstrom. So, exercise, eat properly, and rest well.
Success will never be a big step in the future; success is a small step taken just now (Jonatan Mårtensson.)
The reason we’re successful, darling? My overall charisma, of course (Freddie Mercury.)
A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge – Thomas Carlyle
An investment in knowledge pays the best interest – Benjamin Franklin
Anticipate the difficult by managing the easy – Lao Tzu