Why is one nation’s head of state well-regarded for his positive energy and ability to inspire his countrymen, while another’s leader embraces discord and divisiveness? Why is one company’s CEO known for her creative mind, but an abrasive management style that holds the organization back, while another’s passion and decisiveness move his people to embrace positive change?
Not every leader is a good one, and even those who have some of the requisite characteristics for greatness may not have them in sufficient balance to truly earn them the sobriquet of “great.”
Mountains of content have been written about what the best leaders look like and the hard skills and soft ones that they are either born with or develop to achieve leadership success. Of course, there are learned skills, acquired through education and experience – from finance and business operations to the ability to speak a foreign language. And the soft skills can’t be underestimated, like the ability to communicate and persuade others or showing a strong work ethic.
But, beyond “skills,” per se, leaders possess certain innate characteristics or traits that occur naturally or can be cultivated – and should be cultivated among managers who show the potential to be our next generations of leaders.
The essential traits of a leader go beyond the baseline givens of integrity, intelligence or emotional maturity. Some of them are hard-wired within natural leaders. Others need to be cultivated and polished over time. They include:
· Positive energy. It’s far more productive to build up than to tear down and criticize. People who can stay upbeat, optimistic and encouraging even when circumstances are at their most discouraging will win legions of loyal followers.
· The ability to energize others. It’s called emotional impact, and those who can make their own positive energy contagious to others come out on top. Can you make people feel good about what you’re trying to achieve? Maya Angelou put it this way: “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
· Decisiveness. This is nothing more than being able to act decisively on tough decisions, without waffling, without over-analyzing, without second-guessing. Leaders are able to make the tough calls because they’ve got the confidence to do so. It’s not an inherent trait, but one that that must be encouraged over time.
· The ability to get things done. This is another trait that must be honed over time and requires self-confidence to carry through. It’s the rare leader who can execute and is also an effective strategist: A survey by PwC found only 8 percent of top leaders were effective at both.
· Passion. It’s the passion that leaders have for their people, their work and their lives that produces the energy that drives everyone forward. If vision is “what you see” as a leader, passion makes what you see important.
Ultimately, these traits are bound together to create a total, inimitable persona that stands for something more than just “business as usual.” Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz put it this way: “As a business leader, my quest has never been just about winning or making money. It has also been about building a great, enduring company, which has always meant striking a balance between profit and social conscience.”