When talking about leadership, one of the most commonly asked questions is, “What makes leaders great?” Those that want to succeed in a leadership career need to grasp and fine tune these sought-after skills. Writing for Psychology Today, Ronald Riggio (2009) explains that:
“Effective leaders tend to be inspirational, visionary, and serve as positive role models for their followers. But the very best leaders also care sincerely about their followers, their well-being and their personal development”.
Many would-be leaders understand this but still remain unsure about which skills to hone. One could begin by investigating what leadership means. The word ‘leader’ is believed to date from the 14th century middle English ‘leder’ that meant a quality of character. The suffix ‘-ship’ is also derived from middle English meaning ‘to shape’. So the word leader-ship, literally means ‘to shape character’.
For anyone aspiring to leadership greatness, understanding the specific skills that will get them there is helpful. Here are the top 7 commonly hailed skills of great leaders:
1. Communication – the very best leaders understand that communication is the key to success. Importantly, they also innately understand that this does not just mean talking, it also means really listening to what others have to say and taking on board their ideas. They use communication to advance and to resolve conflict. They can empathise with others which helps them to win people over to their way of thinking.
2. Delegation – good leaders never micro manage. They know that the only way to lead effectively is to delegate so that they can focus on the areas that really need their attention. They also know that people in their team are passionate for personal development, and the best way to achieve this is to delegate to them. They provide guidance and they never blame. When mistakes are made they help others learn reflectively to improve and grow.
3. Intuitive – excellent leaders seem to have a sixth sense about situations. They can sense when an approach may go wrong and they take action to put it right. They can also sense a good idea when they come across it.
4. Confident – outstanding leaders are confident in themselves and confident in others that they surround themselves with. They set a clear vision and find ways to work towards it, inspiring trust in the team that the stretching goals they set can be achieved with hard work and dedication.
5. Consistent – effective leaders are consistent in their approach. They don’t have one rule for some and another for others. They talk the talk and walk the walk. They can be relied on to take a certain diligent approach to similar situations. This is reassuring and inspires trust in their teams.
6. Anticipate – great leaders understand that they always need to be asking “What if?” They listen to their teams, who may be very convincing, and they ask, “But what if it doesn’t go to plan?” And they work with their teams to come up with different options. They also have the foresight to see when an idea is a good one, even if it breaks with traditional ideas and thinking or “the way we do things around here.
7. Flexible – even with great planning and anticipation something can happen that was not expected. Great leaders are flexible and adaptable enough to be able to accept that things are not going as well as was hoped, and they change. They don’t keep ploughing away at something that is going to fail. On this note, it is worth considering the famous words of much lauded leader Jack Welch who said, “Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be”. Good leaders are flexible enough to do this without hesitation.
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.