I field a lot of questions from leaders and aspiring leaders. They are usually problem-focused questions about motivating people, resolving conflict, developing the next generation of leaders, finding their own “fit” as a leader, shaping culture, casting and communicating vision, creating consensus, and so on. Most of the questions are externally focused—not about being a better leader. The question that I do not often hear is, “What are the qualities of the best leaders?” or “How can I be a better leader?”
Ironically, the most important factor in resolving those external issues is the internal issue of the quality of your own leadership. I understand the “outward focus first” phenomenon. We naturally self-validate our own perspective and having settled that issue, if a problem remains, the leader concludes it must be an external problem
I won’t say that external problems are not valid problems. However, when we pause and reflect in a quiet moment we all know that internal growth and change is where we have the most control, and change there is far more lasting and impactful. The leader who focuses on developing their own leadership qualities is better prepared and more effective than merely applying techniques to the externals.
One of the more popular articles in our 6+ years at LeadStrategic.com is 7 Qualities of the Best Leaders. It appears that article struck a nerve with leaders who are indeed thinking about what it means to be a good leader. It’s been a while since I posted 7 Qualities, so I decided to re-evaluate the list.
I wanted to consider whether I would adjust anything, remove anything, or add anything.
Here is a summary of the 7 qualities noted then, but I encourage you to revisit the original post for a more complete discussion of each quality. The list is divided into 4 commonly found qualities and three uncommonly found qualities of the best leaders.
Commonly Found Qualities of the Best Leaders
- The best leaders are humble. They have an intense will but equally great humility.
- The best leaders focus on employees, not products and services. Their attention is on the organization’s greatest asset—its people.
- The best leaders are open to many perspectives. They are open to diversity of ideas that drives innovation and competitive advantage, but know how to be decisive, too.
- The best leaders point the way. They cast vision and provide clear direction on which way to go.
Uncommonly Found Qualities of the Best Leaders
- The best leaders provide hope. Their leadership voice remains strong and clear in the face of trial and crisis.
- The best leaders are systems thinkers. They are aware of the purpose and inter-working of all the elements of a department, organization, or situation.
- 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.
Two and a half years later, I stand by the list. In fact I feel more confident that those are indeed 7 qualities of the best leaders. I never said, however, that they were the only qualities of the best leaders. With careful thought, I’m adding three more qualities.
Three More Qualities of the Best Leaders
- The best leaders are committed to their own learning and growth as a leader. As noted in my opening comments, something I’ve observed in leaders is that we tend to do what all people do and focus on problems outside ourselves. I do it everyday at work. I did it with my wife this past Friday. I did it at a committee meeting at church last week. The best leaders, though, commit to improving the internals. They intently and purposely learn. They grow their capacity and impact as leaders.
- The best leaders develop the next generation of leaders. This is pretty straightforward. A leader who does not invest into future leaders is at the very least being short-sighted (you’re not going to be around forever!) and might even be selfish. The best leaders identify, invest in, and incubate the next generation of leaders. This requires a great commitment of personal and organizational resources.
- The best leaders get results. This, too, is straightforward. It’s hard to justify retaining a leader who does not get results. We need to be careful in making this results judgment, though. “Results” can be defined and measured in many ways. A leader needs to be clear about that definition with whomever he is responsible to.
Here’s an interesting follow-up question for these 10 qualities:
Can a leader who is clearly poor at any one of these still be labeled as one of the “best leaders”?
We can agree that no individual will be an expert with all of these. However, on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being best, let’s say the best leaders need to be 7 or higher on all of these qualities. Further, at least a few of the qualities should be assessed at 9. With that as a baseline, and thinking about the community of “best leaders” that you know, would it be permissible for a leader to be rated below 5 on any of the qualities?
I would say “No,” but I would like your opinion on the matter.
Are you courageous? Create a survey and ask your colleagues and followers to rate you on these qualities. You can then use that feedback as data to pursue quality #8.
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.