Great leaders come in many different shapes and sizes. They have different experience, skills and knowledge that shape what they are able to do. This can make emulating a great leader challenging; as it is hard to know what the characteristics are that truly make that person great. There are however a number of different characteristics that may be seen as common to many of the truly great leaders out there, past and present.
Much has been written about leadership. There are whole industries based on leadership learning and development and lots of research into what makes great leaders successful. One way to understand what makes a great leader great is to learn it from those leaders themselves, most of whom have a fair bit to say on the subject. Here are the top seven features of great leaders, as identified by leaders who have at some time or another been described as “great” by their followers, using their own words to explain what makes great leaders great:
1.They have an inspiring vision – People do not just follow anyone or anything. They have to be inspired to do so. As John Maxwell puts it, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”. A true leader has an inspirational vision that he or she knows can be achieved. The leader then shares this vision with others, taking the journey with them, and sharing their victories and disappointments along the way.
2.They know that they need other great people to succeed – As Ralph Nader once said, “I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers”. Great leaders are not protective of their position, but rather they develop other people to the point those people are able to challenge their decisions and step in for them if they are not around.
3. They know how to set boundaries – whatever your political persuasion, Tony Blair was right when he said, “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes”. Great leaders are not afraid of saying no when they are pursuing their vision. They are also unafraid of saying no when they know that a yes answer won’t do the organisation any favours. They are able to be committed to what they believe in, and saying no is a critical part of that.
4. They can persuade others to follow their cause – According to Dwight Eisenhower, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”. Great leaders are so good at persuasion that they are able to persuade others of their way of thinking. They are able to motivate people to the point that they fully believe in the leader.7 Top Features of Great Leaders. Intelligenthq
5. They empower others – great leaders are almost never micromanagers. Rather, they buy into empowerment and help others become empowered to make their own decisions. They realise that this means that people will make mistakes along the way, and that this is an important part of learning how to do better the next time. Bill Gates agrees saying, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others”.
6. They give credit where credit is due – Nelson Mandela once famously said, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur”. We’ve all experienced a bad leader who is willing to take the credit but assigns blame to the team when things go wrong. Mandela argues for a better approach that is more motivating and engaging for employees. One of the greatest motivators was found by motivation expert Herzberg as being recognition. Recognising others for their achievements will leave them willing to do much more for you. Blaming them will simply alienate them.
7. They are always learning – true leaders know that there is always more to learn. They do not believe that they know it all – nothing could be further from the truth. Instead they embody the concept from a comment made by John F. Kennedy, that “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”. Leaders that learn avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. Instead they learn from them. They focus on learning what their customers want. They know that they will never be finished with learning and growing if they are to lead their organisation to success.
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.