In leadership development training and coaching, a frequently discussed topic is what it means to be a leader and what leadership qualities really are. Can you be a leader even if you don’t have people reporting to you? Is a leader the same as a manager? What are the essential qualities of leaders – and can they be developed?
As someone who has coached leaders in many contexts for over 30 years, here are my thoughts on what it means to be a leader:
This is the defining characteristic. Leaders have a galvanizing vision. They see a need they feel compelled to address – to improve things in some way, bring something important into the world, to right an injustice. Great leaders through time have pursued grand visions in every sphere. But leaders emerge in our everyday world as well, driven by their personal vision of a better future for their organizations, their communities or their world.
While others may see problems, what sets leaders apart is the passion and energy they bring to solving them. This passion comes from a deep sense of purpose, a sincere belief in the importance of their mission which enables them to persevere through all obstacles. Passion is contagious. Leaders who are inspired have the power to inspire others.
Leaders are able to communicate their vision so as to inspire followers. They use simple, compelling language to create a clear picture of the future outcome they seek. They appeal to people’s best instincts by emphasizing why it’s so important. They use metaphors and stories to bring their message to life. They keep the vision alive by continually repeating it.
Leaders are role models. They demonstrate qualities that make people admire them and want to follow them. They are grounded, show empathy, are good listeners and build trusting relationships with others.
Leaders know they can’t do it all. They make sure they have the right people with the right skills to help them execute on their vision.
Enhance your Leadership Qualities
So there you have it, my thoughts on what it takes to be a leader. From this perspective, being a leader is not a role on an organization chart. Rather, it is a set of qualities that can be developed in any role when you see a problem you feel so strongly about that you feel you must take the lead to resolve it.
Managers aren’t necessarily leaders, but good managers do embody many of these qualities. Leaders do not need to have formal authority. They can be leaders by virtue of the influence they have with others. We can all aspire to be leaders in our own life.
So here are some key questions to consider for those who want to become better leaders in their work and their lives:
- What need do you see that you feel so strongly about you feel compelled to take action?
- Why is this important to you? What deeper value will it serve that you feel passionate about?
- How will you communicate your vision to inspire others to rally around it? Learn how to deliver an inspiring message, based on analysis of Martin Luther King’s famous “I had a dream” speech.
- Who do you need to be to achieve your mission? What qualities do you need to embody?
- Who can help you to execute your vision?
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