Leadership is the ability to think strategically, to execute a corporate, personal, community or national vision.
It is nonetheless about the ability to create and inspire teams to work alongside leadership to accomplish a common goal.
Etymologically, the verb “to lead” draws its origin from the Old English word “lædan” which means "cause to go with oneself; march at the head of, go before as a guide, accompany and show the way; carry on“.
Leadership has been often confused with management. The two disciplines are complementary but not interchangeable. Management is about organising processes, programs, data, while leaders have a clear vision of what they want to achieve and how to get there. They build followship, engagement, and steer organisations in the right direction.
Here is our list with the top five skills and qualities leaders should possess:
1. True leaders place themselves in the service of others. To quote Simon Sinek “leadership is not about being in charge, but taking care of those in your charge”.
The idea of servant-leader originates from a book by Robert K Greenleaf who developed the theory while working as an executive at AT&T. In “Servant-leadership, a journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness”, he created a test of leadership that includes the following questions: do those served grow as people? Do they, while being served become healthier, wiser, more autonomous, and likely to serve others? He called this technique a new work ethic and emphasised the fact that workplaces exist to give meaningful work to employees as much as they exist to provide great service and products to others.
2. Leaders facilitate innovation. Because they have a sense of perspective and can envision the timeline of a project, they know when and how to interfere to infuse passion and confidence in team members, facilitate access to resources, fix a communication crisis and make everything run smoothly.
Businesses need leaders. There are a lot of managers that impact the lives of their employees with the decisions they take, but they lack a followship, they don’t inspire teams to follow them, and the level of innovation in the company suffers.
Mckinsey conducted a study involving 600 senior executives, middle managers, and professionals in many industries about innovative business cultures. The study concluded that the two main factors that influence the level of innovation in a company are strong leaders that encourage innovation and executives that spend their time actively managing and driving it.
3. Courage is one of the most important leadership traits. Leaders are the ones that dare to go first, to try new things, to fail. Without courage, nobody can make a difference. In the absence of courage, no one can open a conversation that leads to change. Courage means showing up with vulnerabilities and imperfections. Courage is not about wearing armour to protect from fear. It’s rather acting in the face of fear. Especially in times of change, leaders need to dare to take risks.
4. Perseverance is often associated with exceptional leaders. It requires a long focus and passion for long term goals and high achievement. Research shows that top performers have to accumulate at least ten years of practice before reaching “expert” status. In “Outliers: the story of success”, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the 10.000-hour rule. The principle was confirmed by Simon and Rule in 1973 about chess players that have reached top status in their field. The same goes for top performers, actors, mathematicians, writers, musicians. Persistence and focused practice predict high achievement.
5. True leaders are trusting and trustworthy. They empower people to find their own way to deliver meaningful work. Allowing people to take accountability for their projects makes them feel reliable and valued which will only increase their input in the team. Great leaders practice what they preach. If they want to be taken seriously, they have to walk the talk. If they expect others to admit mistakes, they have to do the same. If they talk about work-life balance, they have to exemplify that. And not last, true leaders have to be the change they want to see in others. They counsel, teach, coach, instil leadership values in others so they can learn to inhabit the role and become leaders themselves.
In conclusion, leaders have to always be in the services of others, as facilitators of innovation. Their greatness is built on courage, perseverance, and trust. However, anyone who is interested in contributing to others peoples success and wellbeing can call themselves leaders. No titles required.