In preparation for writing this blog I researched leadership heavily. I did so with the intent to find correlations and predictions of leadership abilities from various factors. I wanted to find out if there were certain traits or characteristics that really defined the best leader. Meta-analysis after meta-analysis I kept stumbling upon the same answer, one that I had not expected. The answer that there was not one definitive answer. While one analysis will point to a certain personality type, another will support quite the opposite. Other research shows that levels of motivation are the most important character trait but can quickly countered by another arguing the importance of social skills. So what is it that really makes a great leader? What is it that gives one person the ability to influence over another? Why do some do so verbally and others lead by example? There is so much to learn about leadership on a multitude of levels. As complex and depth full as the research is, it does seem to show some trends. The following are qualities that seem to surface over and over again in academic papers.
Leaders see problems coming, and they immediately begin processing the best solutions. Whether it is in sports, business, or personal life, conflict is a realistic part of our everyday lives and instead of shying away from adversity, leaders prepare for it. They understand that problems, when confronted with the proper solutions, can make the whole more powerful then it was to begin with.
Leaders exude confidence and self awareness. They are able to tell you what their strengths are, and more importantly what their weaknesses are. Having a strong sense of who you are and who you are not is demonstrated in the words and actions of leaders.
The knowledge and experience to reassure those around you that for whatever situation presents itself, you will have a proper response. Some of the best examples of this characteristic can be seen in professional sports. Think of some of the best coaches from a variety of different sports, chances are many of them have experience in the sport and have been coaching for quite some time. The combination of having knowledge and experience in your leadership position gives both you, and those following you, a sense of control.
There has been a lot of controversy over what specific personality traits represent the best leader. So to simplify this, lets just say this: leaders have powerful personalities. They have personalities that encompass what it means to have character. Having empathy, loyalty, and selflessness, among other things. Another important personality trait is needed: caring about people. In order to be a leader you must be leading a group of people. You can not be a leader if you do not have people following you. In this respect, caring about a group outside of yourself is necessary. Overall, leaders may act and speak in different ways and have vastly different personalities, but regardless of those differences, their personality stands out from others.
Leaders want to make a difference, and they find the initiative to do so. There is a quote “those who have a why can deal with any how.” This is the mission statement engraved in a leaders mind. They know what they want to do, and will find a way to do whatever it takes to get there. Leaders have focused motivation on the intended goal, and will inspire others to have the same.
One of the hardest things for anyone to achieve is consistency. As humans, we encounter a wide range of feelings and experiences. To be able to handle all those things in a consistent manner is tough! However, the best leaders do so. This allows them to remain focused and accountable.
Similar to confidence, leaders believe in what they are trying to accomplish. Having a vision of what they want to do and being contagious in their enthusiasm for it is something that comes naturally for a leader. The vision comes from an inner drive and others can sense that. Leaders stand by the hard-fast rule that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Often times this vision is crystal clear, and other times only the end result is clear. Whatever the case, leaders are able to find a way to get to the result, even if that means adjusting the plan to do so along the way.
This quality is not always present, but it highly desirable in a leader. If you can listen to them and believe every word that they say is true, it allows the process as a whole to move more fluently. Leaders that have this genuine intent allow others to also be open and honest. When everyone is working in the same direction for the right reasons, the group as a whole can accomplish a great deal.
So let’s review. While there is no one defining characteristic that predicts the best leaders, there have been quite a few that seem to continuously present themselves in research. By being mindful of, and developing the skills above, it seems that someone would be traveling in the right direction. It may not ensure that you will be the world’s next best leader, but it sure gives you a foundation to be in the running.