One question asked endlessly in business, academic, political, and other circles is, “What’s the difference between a manager and a leader?” The most often quoted answer seems to be, “The manager does things right – the leader does the right things.” What exactly does that mean – “doing the right thing”? Does that mean history tells us whether the leader did the right thing? Can someone be a leader even if they end up on the losing side? What are the qualities of a great leader?
A great leader is one who knows that though the risk of failure may be high, they don’t give up on themselves or others. Great leaders are people of exceptional character who are capable of bringing others through a crisis. All leaders share certain leadership qualities or characteristics, including:
If you don’t have a healthy self-respect, you won’t respect others. If you don’t respect others, they will not respect you. You can’t be a great leader of people who don’t respect you.
Great leaders say what they mean and mean exactly what they say. Effective communicators are far more persuasive than those who don’t communicate well.
Leaders are not swayed by unsubstantiated opinions or unfounded rumors. Fame, power, or material gain don’t motivate them. Great leaders have integrity, that strength of character that resists assault.
Vision, mission (or a purpose), a sense of direction, and a clear set of goals. Moreover, they know that their job isn’t done when one set of goals is reached. Great leaders know that life is a journey.
Leaders have a vision of what the world around them ought to be, but they are also pragmatic. Things will not always go smoothly, but great leaders understand that and have the presence of mind to deal with that.
Fear is a powerful motivator; it causes many of us to turn away from our goals when our belief in ourselves and our cause isn’t strong. Leaders aren’t fearless — leaders make a conscious choice to act in spite of their fear.
It’s like they always say: “Winners don’t quit, and quitters don’t win.” Nothing worth having comes easily. When setbacks crop up, leaders don’t flag because they always have their eyes on the prize.
Leaders aren’t self-promoting or self-aggrandizing. They don’t take all the credit. They give credit to others and refuse it for themselves.
Leaders are willing to bear the ultimate responsibility for their undertakings. They don’t point the finger of blame when things go awry.
When action is called for, real leaders don’t waffle. Knowing that a window of opportunity exists (“the time to act is now”), they act quickly and effectively, based on the best available information.
Similarly, it is sometimes said that leaders are made by their followers, and vice versa. From that, it should follow that if we’re to get leaders who embody those traits leaders should have, we as followers should embody many, if not all, of those leadership traits ourselves.
Most importantly, great leaders have these leadership characteristics in balance. Some may tell you there is one characteristic more important than the rest. They’ll say something like, “Oh, you have to have that ‘vision thing’ above all else.” Not true – people won’t follow someone who has vision without courage or humility, for example.
What about you? What do you think are the most important qualities of a great leader? Who do you consider a leader and why?
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