7 Qualities of the Best Leaders

2014-09-12

For several months, I’ve had a Post-It note on my desk. At first, all it said was, “The Best Leaders …” I let it sit there for several days, letting my observational and thinking radar tune to that frequency. Then, as I began to observe the best leaders in action, I wrote down what I learned. The first few items appeared on the list rather quickly. They are qualities common to the best leaders. However, the final three items are rare indeed. Only the very best leaders display those qualities. Here is my list of the seven qualities of the best leaders:

The best leaders are humble.
Jim Collins made this concept popular with his book Good to Great. Collins described the concept of the “Level 5 Leader,” who displays intense will yet equally great humility. Humility is also consistent with the idea of servant leadership. Many consider Jesus Christ as the greatest servant leader of all, a model that Christian leaders aspire to.

The best leaders focus on employees, not products and services.
To be honest with you, I identified this trait of the best leaders by observing some of the worst leaders. There are a few organizations that I have worked with in which the leaders are more focused on the design and delivery of their product or service than they are on the people involved in those activities. In these organizations, employees are very demotivated and turnover is high. In contrast, in organizations where the leaders focus on employees first, morale is high, effectiveness is high, and they retain the best employees.

The best leaders are open to many perspectives.
Closed-minded, single-issue, narrow-scope leaders don’t last long, frankly. In fact, their mindset predisposes them to developing a limited sphere of influence and they are not able to expand their career and leadership capacity. On the other hand, the best leaders are open to multiple ideas, perspectives, and approaches to solving problems. They also know how to focus and when to be decisive in choosing an approach to solving problems. This leads to the next trait of the best leaders.

The best leaders point the way.
One of the basic responsibilities of leadership is to provide direction to followers. This is a fundamental skill. Pointing the way is also described as casting vision. There is much written about the need for leaders to cast vision. One of the best writers on this topic is my friend TJ Addington. Search his blog, Leading From the Sandbox, for excellent articles on this topic.

And now I move on to the final three qualities of the best leaders, that are actually rather rare.

The best leaders provide hope.
It is possible for a leader to be humble, to focus on employees, to be open to many perspectives, and to point the way, but not provide hope. Such a leader is likely to have a good following, and probably a rather healthy organization. However, when crisis hits, hope is needed! When great difficulties face the organization, or the culture in which that organization exists, the best leaders provide hope to the followers. This hope binds the followers and leaders together to form a network of encouragement and security in the face of great challenges.

The best leaders are systems thinkers.
They understand how parts interact. They know that nothing operates in a “black box.” They recognize that a change in policy in one department may in fact have a significant impact upon daily practice in a seemingly unrelated part of the company. The best leaders are able to see the relationship between individual employee health and overall company effectiveness. They take time to carefully consider a multitude of interactions before making significant decisions.

The best leaders are gracious.
They forgive. They confess. They say, “You are right. I was wrong.” They give credit away. They lift others up regardless of position. They do not ridicule others. They love people.
 
 
Which of these qualities do you possess? Which need to be developed? Ask a coworker to rate you on these seven qualities and provide feedback regarding your strengths and weaknesses. Better yet, ask your spouse to rate you and provide feedback. To do that, you will need to be humble, open to many perspectives, and gracious. It will be an opportunity to exercise three of the qualities of the best leaders!

Update:
On April 24, 2017, I posted 3 More Qualities of the Best Leaders.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Credits
Photo by Leo Reynolds. Available at Flickr.com.

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