When thinking about the concept of leadership, many individuals assume that it is the same thing as management. This couldn't be further from the truth - a leader is anyone who wants to be, regardless of their position with an organization. Similarly, many managers do not actually possess the leadership qualities that would make them true leaders.
Leadership can mean many things to different people. One good definition of an effective leader is "a person who does the following:
Creates an inspiring vision of the future.
Motivates and inspires people to engage with that vision.
Manages delivery of the vision.
Coaches and builds a team, so that it is more effective at achieving the vision."
To that end, even the most junior members of a team can learn how to be a good leader, if they are using their talents to motivate and assist their teams in moving forward and ultimately accomplishing their goals (individually, on a departmental scale, and organization-wide). And more broadly, one can lead in many contexts beyond the workplace, in any community with which you might be involved (for example, a religious community, a volunteer community, or a neighborhood community). Even if your sphere of influence is relatively small, you can play an integral role in leading the organization to success.
Leadership does not belong to those at the top of the organizational hierarchy, nor does it only apply to people who have what we would commonly consider the qualities of leadership (an outgoing personality, for example). It's also important to note that though we often refer to leadership as a singular skill, in reality, it's an accumulation of skills (most of which can be developed through experience and training) that are uniquely influenced by an individual's personality and background. Think about your own experience: of the leaders you've interacted with throughout your life, chances are, there are a number of different leadership styles represented. However, most of them probably possessed a similar set of good leadership qualities that they drew from to be successful.
When considering what strong leadership looks like, there are a few qualities of a great leader that tend to be true across the board - these are traits that every good leader has, or should strive for.
The Top 10 Qualities of a Great Leader
Perhaps the greatest quality any leader can have is vision - the ability to see the big picture of where the organization or team they are working within is headed, what it's capable of, and what it will take to get there.
Equally as important as having a vision is the ability to convey that vision to others, and get them excited about it. This means maintaining a positive yet realistic presence within the organization helping team members stay motivated and engaged, and remember what it is that they are working for.
3. Strategic & Critical Thinking
A good leader will be able to think critically about the organization or team they work within, and develop a clear understanding of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (and how they as an individual can work to support or overcome these). They'll be able to course-correct when necessary, and be able to assess the work they do to determine how it fits into overall organizational strategy and goals.
4. Interpersonal Communication
Good leaders must be able to interact with other people in a way that feels genuine. This does not mean you have to be an extrovert or a people-person to be a leader - there are many excellent leaders who self-identify as introverts! Rather, it means being able to demonstrate empathy, engaging in active listening, and building meaningful working relationships with those around you, whether they are a peer or a direct report.
5. Authenticity & Self-Awareness
One of the key ways to become a great leader is to be self-aware enough to understand your strengths and your flaws, and to build an authentic leadership style that's true to who you are and how you do your best work. You want to be the best possible leader you can be, not try to fit into a mold set by someone else. Try to embrace the things that make you who you are, and that will naturally translate into you developing an authentic leadership style.
6. Open-Mindedness & Creativity
Being a good leader means being open to new ideas, possibilities, and perspectives, and understanding that there's no "right" way to do things. Leadership involves the knowledge that success comes with a willingness to change how things are done and to bring in fresh eyes to inspire new ideas, in addition to trying to think outside the box as much as possible. Leaders must be able to listen, observe, and be willing to change course when necessary.
Leadership also means being adaptable and nimble when the situation calls for it. Nothing ever goes according to plan - whether you encounter minor roadblocks or large obstacles, you will need to be prepared to stop, reassess, and determine a new course of action. Good leaders will embrace the ever-changing nature of business and meet challenges with a flexible attitude - and be able to build inspire that same willingness to adapt in those around them.
8. Responsibility & Dependability
One of the most important qualities a leader can have is a sense of responsibility and dependability. This means displaying those traits in your individual work, but also demonstrating them in your interactions with others. Your team members need to know that they can depend on you to take on your fair share of work and follow through, support them through tough times, and help them meet both shared and individual goals.
9. Patience & Tenacity
A good leader knows how to take the long view, whether it's of a strategy, a situation, or a goal. Being able to take on any bumps in the road and persist on without getting frustrated or defeated is key—from small projects to corporate vision, patience is a trait that is essential to strong leadership.
10. Continuous Improvement
True leaders know that perfection is a myth - there is always room for improvement on all levels, from the personal to the team to the overall organization. They'll always be willing to help team members find ways to develop new skills or improve upon a weakness, be able to identify and implement strategies for helping the organization as a whole grow, and, perhaps most importantly, be able to look inward and identify the areas they would like to work on - and then act on them.
How to Develop Leadership Skills and Be a Great Leader
Luckily, unlike some highly specialized or technical skills, leadership is a competency that can be accessible to anyone. As mentioned above, anyone can learn how to be a great leader, regardless of where they fall on an organizational chart, and similarly, anyone can develop leadership skills, whether it's through formal training or simply through self-education and on-the-job practice.
For example, if you are a relatively junior member of your organization, you might want to look at the qualities of leadership listed above and assess how you do on each of them. Maybe you'll recognize some of them as traits you possess, and maybe some of them are places you could work on developing. That could mean practicing active listening during meetings with coworkers, being proactive about bringing new ideas to your team, or asking for assistance from a peer or manager in developing one of your weaker areas.
If you are looking to be considered for a promotion or a job change into a higher-level position (or even if you're already in a management role and are looking to hone your leadership skills to be as successful as possible), you may want to consider a more formal education or training in leadership. There are many programs out there, from short-term leadership seminars to full degree programs, that can help you become a visionary, transformative leader and experience enhanced career success. Obviously, the longer and more in-depth a program is, the deeper the education you receive will be.
A master's degree program in executive leadership can be a great option for mid- to senior-level professionals. Today, many there are many fully accredited institutions offering this degree both on-campus and online, which can be a plus for students who must juggle a full-time job, family commitments, and their education.
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