What Personal Qualities Do Great Leaders Have? (Part 1)

Top 10 Qualities For A Great Leader

This is a complex question. I have been a student of leadership for many years and there is a plethora of theories and models concerning what good leadership looks like. As I have blogged before, Leadership is Influence. There are many bases for leadership: positional, relational, knowledge/information, performance, etc. But real, lasting leadership tends to be based upon influential relationships.

In my last blog post, I listed 5 Common Misunderstandings About Leadership. If those misunderstandings are examples of what leadership is not, then what personal qualities do make a great leader? Here are the first 6 of my “Top 10” personal qualities for a great leader:

  1. Character. Character can be many things, but at its essence it is integrity; a leader does what he says he will do. It is being responsible and dependable to follow through. It is having the courage to do the right thing. And it is having the humility to admit when you are wrong. Character and integrity are required for trust to exist between two people and trust is the basis for all good relationships.
  2. Self-Discipline & Self-Development. A leader must lead himself well before he can lead others well. This means he must count the cost of what good leadership takes and prioritize time accordingly. Good leadership requires personal sacrifice at times. For example, good leadership requires making the time for ongoing personal investment – a desire to learn and improve – what Stephen Covey calls “sharpening the saw”.
  3. Create Positive Change. A good leader must be able to make a difference. He/she must be able to make change happen. To do this he/she must be a competent problem solver, confident in his/her abilities, have discernment, take initiative, and be results-oriented.
  4. Positive & Passionate Attitude. A good leader must have an attitude that is contagious in a positive way. He/she must be able to motivate others to take action. He/she must show commitment to the vision and goals. And contrary to popular thought, a dynamic/charismatic personality can be a developed skill – even if it does not come naturally.
  5. Vision. A good leader must have an ability to conceive of where the organization needs to go. Recognition of why the current state is bad is not enough. Real change only occurs when there is a clear vision of a future state that is much better than the current state. This is the “magnet” that draws the organization through the pain period of change. So conception of the vision is not enough. The leader must also be able to communicate the vision to those he/she leads in a clear and compelling way.
  6. Focus. In the words of Peters and Waterman in “In Search of Excellence,” a good leader must be able to ‘stick to the knitting’. Based on the mission and vision of the organization, they must be able to set goals, prioritize, plan, and resource, based on what’s needed for change. They must maintain a focus on their primary objectives and strategies and not get distracted.

Check back next week for the final 4 of my “Top 10” qualities of an effective leader.

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