What makes a good leader? Thousands of books have been published on this topic, but the most desirable leadership traits are those that have sustained the test of time for centuries. Renowned football coach Vince Lombardi said, "Leaders are made, they are not born; and they are made just like anything else has ever been made in this country--by hard work."
If you were to research every book or article written on the subject of effective leadership traits, you will eventually find they all conclude that one trait is essential: effective communication. A great leader knows how to communicate. And that is not to say that she writes well or speaks eloquently. True effective communication requires the ability to understand your audience's background and how it will interpret what you are communicating.
Communication is also a two-way street. A good leader will make listening to new ideas, concerns and issues a priority. Establishing an open-door policy and being approachable provides the most effective way to keep lines of communication free flowing and genuine. A good leader knows how to communicate his vision in a way that all team members clearly understand the direction, as well as their function within the team.
Broad-mindedness is often cited as one of the top traits necessary for being a good leader. The ability to accept that not everything is black and white, to try to see an issue from a different perspective and to value diversity of opinion brings trust and candor to the organization. The closed-minded leader simply perpetuates secrecy and suspicion, thereby eroding all trust. Displaying honesty and integrity in your actions will model the behavior you expect from everyone else around you.
Another significant trait found in great leaders throughout history is that they could inspire by showing stamina and endurance. This includes the ability to inspire people to take action and motivate them to follow your vision, yet take their own charge when called upon. To inspire requires confidence in all of your actions. Excellent leaders show a great deal of confidence, the ability to speak their mind and act decisively.
Competence and intelligence are also mandatory traits for a good leader. A good leader will base her actions on moral principles and sound reason, leaving petty emotional needs out of consideration. Leadership requires study, reading, research and probing to constantly stay ahead of the game. Seeking new and incrementally more challenging assignments will move a leader within the organization. Competence is showing your education, skills and experience to let others know you can be trusted to make sound decisions.
Standout leaders utilize creativity and imagination to resolve problems and envision new and innovative goals. Applying a little creativity to communications and recognition will go a long way with employees. Initiative and ambition indicate a leader has drive and is not afraid to forge unknown territories, thinking out of the box.
The benefits of honing these particular traits are worth the practice. A good leader will communicate the project and plans and then let go, allowing the team to run with it. As a coach, the leader is there to guide and redirect when necessary and provide the resources required for the work to be accomplished. A leader knows when to step in as well as when to step out. Understanding the importance of these qualities will enable a good leader to focus the team on being committed to accomplishing its goals.
The lack of these traits can result in toxic leadership, in which the team will begin under-performing and become distrustful. Toxic leaders are self-centered, of average competence, lack imagination or creativity, amoral and lack credibility. This type of leader may appear credible in the beginning, but ultimately his inability to successfully lead will become apparent to his followers. Toxic leadership can destroy an organization with deception and hidden agendas.
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