7 Characteristics of GREAT Leaders – and How to Model Them

Leadership is not always just a natural gift, it can be learned. People look up to leaders for a number of reasons, but time and time again, the same attributes are used to describe leaders. James Kouzes and Barry Posner have surveyed over 100,000 people looking to define the attributes of effective leaders. In their research, they’ve identified 20 characteristics that are shared by leaders.

Employees have great admiration and respect for leaders in their organization. The leaders they respect the most have attributes and these attributes are shared across different types of organizations and leadership roles, but they are attributes that well-respected leaders have. In this tutorial, you’ll learn about 7 characteristics of great leaders – and how to model them in your own leadership.

1. Honest

Honesty is consistently at the top of the list of leadership attributes. It is the single most important attribute of a leader: if someone is going to follow you, they want to know you are someone with integrity and character. Your employees want to know you are someone with strong character and solid integrity so that they can trust you to make the difficult decisions. No one want so to be lied to – the quality of honesty makes someone personal to us. You may have someone in your organization that consistently knows how to win, but doesn’t always do it with integrity. These individuals will have a difficult time leading a team as people don’t know when to trust him.

How do I demonstrate honesty?

Someone who demonstrates honesty has a solid foundation of values and demonstrates ethics in their dealings. A manager who does not know when to take a stand, and the stand to take, puts doubt into the peoples’ minds about her capacity to lead. The biggest indicator of honesty is provided by evidence of her integrity. People want to match word with action – if the person says something and then follows it with the same action, she builds trust and people measure her as honest.

2. Forward Looking

A leader is someone who can look forward and comprehend the direction for the team or company. A leader can envision the future and assemble a team and plan to achieve it. A good manager can work on day to day tasks and achieve them, but an excellent leader can strategically plan and forecast what is needed for an organization. This isn’t magic – its the ability to set a path to a desired destination. As employees move higher in an organization, they look more and more for leaders who can set a vision for the organization.

How do I become someone who is forward looking?

This is often an attribute of major developmental need for managers. Managing day to day tasks and projects is a different skill-set than setting a vision for an organization and the steps necessary to achieve it. As you develop the skills necessary to move within an organization, volunteer to take on projects of increasing scope and time commitment. Managing to an end goal will help you understand the process of setting a long term goal and the steps necessary to achieve it.

3. Competent

We are willing to follow someone who we believe can reach the goals she has set. We want a competent leader who has the ability to get things done. The competence of a leader is really this question: can he or she lead the organization in the direction it needs to go? A leader is likely not competent in the core technology of the organization, but he or she needs to be competent in setting a strategy and achieving it.

How can I become a more competent leader?

A competent leader identifies the talents of his staff and knows how to bring the best out of them. You become more competent in your organization by gaining experience. Experience across multiple lines of business or leading different departments broadens you expertise and helps you build competence.

4. Inspiring

A leader uses inspiration to help others see his vision for the organization. An enthusiastic leader can help motivate people to meet goals they otherwise couldn’t attain. A leader can have a vision for the organization, but he needs to know how to communicate this dream to help other people buy in as well. Some people just work for a paycheck, but many employees are motivated by a greater purpose and inspiring your employees to work towards an inspirational goal will create more loyalty and higher productivity.

How do I become inspirational?

Analyze how you speak with others: are you upbeat, positive, and energetic? Do you speak optimism and hope into people? Make a determined effort to speak with meaning and a purpose.

5. Intelligent

Employees are looking for a leader who can demonstrate intelligence. They want a leader who can immediately grasp a problem and see the potential solutions. Leaders may not be the smartest at the company, but they do need to be among the smartest. An excellent leader can look at an issue and see it from several different angles.

How do I demonstrate intelligence in my leadership?

Build your expertise through experience in multiple areas and continually educating yourself. A recent survey showed that major CEOs read a lot – books can help expand your knowledge and let you discover new ways of doing business.

6. Fair-minded

A leader is expected to be fair-minded and handle each decision in a manner that is respected. A fair-minded leader analyzes both sides of an issue and develops a resolution that is viewed by others as “right.” A good portion of being fair-minded is tied to how honest a leader is perceived to be.

How do I become a fair-minded leader?

When you have a decision to make, take more time than you do usually to review all of the options and determine which one is “right.” With more practice of analyzing a situation, you will learn to make quicker decisions, but with more review of the options.

7. Broad-minded

A leader has a wide view of the organization and the ability to process situations with the big picture in mind. When you need to make a decision as a leader, people expect you to have the bigger picture in mind. As a leader, you need to be open to new ideas and suggestions from employees. One of my goals as a manager is to hire people who are smarter than me. There will be times you need to put away your ego for the good of your team.

How do I become a broad-minded leader?

Gain experience in business units or departments. Volunteer for new positions or roles that will help expand your expertise and build a wider experience for you as you move through an organization. Work for different types of people to gain experience working with different personalities. Ask for suggestions from your team and implement the good ones.

A great leader encompasses many characteristics. What leadership qualities do you look for?

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