Some children were playing in the park when their ball hit the window pane of a neighboring house. The glass shattered with the impact and noise was deafening. Almost immediately, a grumpy old man came out shouting abuses at the children. He demanded to know who had hit the ball. The children were silent with fear. The old man threatened to report the action of the children to their parents, and arrange to have the play area sealed off. Then one girl came forward and owned up for the action. She said she was sorry on behalf of all her friends, and promised not to repeat the action in future. She also promised the man that she and her friends would play in another corner of the park from then on. The old man cooled down on receiving the apology and let the children off with a strict warning. He also threw their ball back.
fNow this may be a familiar story from everybody’s childhood. Many of us have gone through similar situations in our young age, but how many of us have behaved in a manner similar to that of the girl? That, precisely, is the behavior that distinguishes a leader from the rest.
Leadership behavior and qualities are not limited to any particular stratum, level or profession. These can be evidenced in any role, in any category of people, in any situation. So a salesgirl may exhibit leadership qualities as may a newspaper vendor, a housewife as may a college student, a bus conductor as may a company executive.
So, when you think of your favorite good leader, whose name crops up in your mind?
Let me guess. Some answers may be:
- Nelson Mandela
- Barrack Obama
- The Dalai Lama
- Bill Gates
- Mother Teresa
- Ratan Tata
- Aung San Suu Kyi
- Steve Jobs
Your neighbourhood activist a good leader
As you can see, the above list is as varied and eclectic as the qualities that define a good leader. Why do we admire someone as a good leader? Why do we want to follow someone? What is it about someone that inspires us?
It is very difficult to put a finger on what exactly makes a good leader, as many leaders are very different from each other in terms of personality and traits.
For example, if we consider a powerful personality as an essential characteristic of a good leader, then why did millions of Indians follow Mahatma Gandhi willingly when he urged them to adopt non-violence means of protest and give up using imported goods? He had a mild personality and was extremely soft spoken. Hardly the charismatic leader one imagines a path-breaker to be. On the other hand, you have another Indian freedom fighter, Subhash Chandra Bose, a dynamic and powerful speaker, a quintessential man of action, so to say, who equally successfully, inspired millions to take up the freedom struggle in India, and got world good leaders to support his efforts.
The earliest theory of leadership stated that leadership is an inborn quality that you either have or don’t have. But later management gurus have taught us that leadership qualities can be learned and imbibed through proper training and behavior modeling.
Let us first touch upon some popular theories of Leadership:
- Trait theory, that specifies the traits or qualities that make a successful and a good leader. Some traits would be:
- Desire to lead
- Good personality
- Behavioral theory, that stresses on effective leadership is a result of role behavior. It moves away from traits to emphasize the behavioral patterns that define a good leader and its effects on followers
- Management or Leadership Grid theory founded by Blake and Moulton, specifying five distinct styles of management ranging from Impoverished (poor) to Team (Desirable) Management
- Situational theory, that stresses on the importance of the situational factors like subordinate, supervisor and task considerations in determining the good leadership style.
- Path-goal theory, that focuses on the achievement of goals as the ultimate aim of leadership, and identifies four styles of leadership in influencing subordinates to achieve organizational and individual goals
The above are some of the earliest theories of leadership propounded by management experts. Organization HR Departments still use some of these methods to conduct leadership development programs for executives. However, the inherent limitation of these theories is that they focus exclusively on the leader and his/her style.
Changing Corporate Scenario
In the current age of global turbulence, an uncertain economy, and constant corporate change, the focus has shifted from the leader to the other variables of the leadership matrix. The focus is now on the changing needs and profile of the follower, the increasing complexity of work tasks, altering organizational realities, and the cross-cultural, ethnically diverse workforce.
The Transformational Leadership theory has been becoming increasingly popular over the past decades. Transformational leadership, as evident from the terminology, relies heavily on the personal impact the leader has on subordinates, the way he/she imbibes and sells an idea or vision, and how he/she constantly inspires and leads by example.
The transformational leader motivates and rallies around his/her people and is always visible. Such leaders live their vision and mission and guide others by infusing tasks with meaning and challenge. Creativity and innovation score high with such leaders. Leaders such as these are great change agents and lead organizational transformation from the front.
Shifting away from the Individual to Group Leadership
Later theories have also focused on group leadership as an alternative to personal leadership. Each individual has the capacity to become a good leader, so why concentrate on one individual? Favorable conditions for exhibiting good leadership qualities must be made available to everyone in the organization, believe modern management experts. In teams and groups, each person must be given opportunities to assume leadership roles.
Imbibing Leadership Qualities
“Leadership cannot really be taught. It can only be learned.” – Harold S Geneen
Now, assuming that each one has it in us to become a good leader, the next question would be how do I learn leadership? The answer would be by observing the behavior and actions of inspiring leaders. But one may argue that their circumstances are different; they had the necessary conditions for having “leadership thrust on them”.
But leadership is not necessarily the product of being born out of particularly conducive circumstances. Each one of us can emerge a good leader by personal transformation and change.
For this, the key word is personal change or modification of our thoughts and beliefs. Identify your role model, and learn from his/her journey towards greatness. Having an inspiring role model urges us to adopt a similar behavior and actions in our lives.
You also need to let go of your fears, the
Let me discuss the common fears we have about ourselves:
- I am not smart/ intelligent enough to become a good leader. The pet peeve of almost all of us, who believe that we are not good enough to lead other people. Most of us have a negative self-image that pushes us to undermine our strengths and play up our shortcomings. So we have this script playing out in our minds constantly:
- I am dumb
- I can’t do this
- My communication sucks
- I wish I were someone else
Shake it off pal, if you want to rise above the rest. A Good Leader is far from perfect. They have risen from ordinary backgrounds, have struggled like you and me to prove their worth, and have conquered personal demons.
- I have failed so many times. So have all of us! Failures are the pillars of success, goes an old saying. Failure is not demeaning as long as it teaches as valuable lessons about ourselves, and about life. Leaders, all through time, have been open about failing, and of picking up from where they have left off. Leadership involves rising like a phoenix from the ashes of failure.
- What will people say/ what if people laugh at me? If you spend all your life thinking this, then, unfortunately, life will pass you by. People are busy leading their lives, they will, at the most, comment on what you are doing, then carry on with what they were doing. Our insecurities pull us back, always citing the stray incident when someone laughed at us or mocked our actions. But, think of the times when you went ahead and achieved results, gained personal happiness or contentment. Is it not worth risking one or two comments or laughs for the joy of doing what your heart desires?
- I will lose my job/ financial stability. Risk-taking is not everyone’s cup of tea, admitted. CEOs and company honchos are comfortable taking risks. But think about it. They have far more to lose than you. Still, they do take calculated risks. No pain, no gain, as they say. Leadership involves taking tough decisions, often unpleasant or risky. But the expected trade-off makes it worth it.
You will find a lot of thoughts preventing you from displaying leadership behavior in the workplace:
- My boss will scream at me
- He/she will feel insulted by my actions
- Co-workers will become hostile
- I will be overstepping my area of authority
- I will be upsetting the status quo
And so on and so forth. Often unpleasant precedents haunt us and hold us back. But a leader has to break free from such inhibitions and do what is required. Today, leadership is about initiating change, and change involves upsetting the balance to create something more worthwhile.
Organizational Impetus to Leadership
Rigid hierarchies, domineering management styles, and excessive adherence to the rule book stifle initiative and don’t allow employees to emerge as a good leader. Risk-taking and out-of-the-box thinking are essential components of leadership; if these are suffocated by bureaucracy and autocracy, then the organization loses out on potential leaders.
Some steps can be taken by HR in organizations to encourage leadership in employees:
- Build an open culture, where ideas can be freely expressed and creative behavior is not punished
- Work towards flatter or matrix organizational structures
- Train employees across levels in leadership development
- Identify organizational role models to mentor and coach employees in leadership
- Form cross-functional teams, where employees can be free from hierarchical compulsions and contribute ideas and act without constant supervision
- Align performance review and reward systems to encourage initiative and innovation in employees
- Communicate top management support to encouraging leadership behavior in employees
Unless employees feel free to act without fear of punishment or retribution, leadership will remain centered among the top few levels of the company. And that is certainly not healthy for the organization, for it means leadership remains the exclusive domain of a chosen few who are in the top rungs of the company.
Also, many potential leaders may not be exhibitionists or extroverts who tom-tom their achievements. These employees need to be identified early, nurtured, and encouraged to develop and apply their leadership skills in the workplace. Else, organizations stand to lose out on potential leadership talent that may make a radical difference if properly harnessed.
So if we had to compile a generic list of the qualities of a good leader, what is the template we should consider? From what we have discussed in this article, based on numerous theories, it can be concluded that leadership approaches and styles need to keep evolving with changing realities. Task and subordinate considerations, organizational objectives, and environmental factors, all influence leadership.
I have suggested a few qualities that every good leader has, irrespective of his/her personality or background or education or even area of work, which are:
- Initiative or the desire to do something new
- Positive attitude, without which leadership cannot exist
- Confidence, the hallmark of all leaders
- Vision, or the ability to see the big picture
- A sense of responsibility towards the task, towards followers
- Commitment to what needs to be done
- Integrity or personal honesty
- Empathy towards others
- Willingness to take risks, without which nothing new can be achieved
- Acceptance of failure, an important factor in the process of leadership
In conclusion, everyone has the potential to develop leadership characteristics. You need to let go of your inhibitors, the fears, and insecurities that chain you and don’t let you grow to your full potential.
You become a good leader when you feel free to achieve what you want to when you develop a sense of responsibility towards your fellow beings when the goal is clear to you and you prepare to lead from the front.
Happy Leadership to you, folks!
This has been a useful guide to the best qualities a good leader. Here are some articles that will help you to get more detail about a Good Leader strategy so just go through the link.