Are You an Effective Leader? | Traits of a Great Leader

The Harvard Business Review Group on LinkedIn recently polled its members asking “What is the single most important quality for a leader to have?” The respondents to this poll were managers from various organizations at various levels. It is my opinion that the unspoken yet understood part of the question was “What is the most important quality that you would like to see in your leader?”

Here are the top six responses:

  • Integrity. An uncompromising and predictably consistent commitment to honor moral and ethical values through both words and actions.
  • Visionary. Having clear ideas about what the future should look like and what should happen or be done to achieve it.
  • Honesty. The quality of being fair and truthful, closely related to integrity
  • Trust. Confidence from others that your intentions are good and clear.  It centers on behavior that is predictable.  It requires vulnerability with the confidence that this will not be used against you by the persons who have your trust and in turn who you trust.
  • Humility. The skill espoused by maintaining pride about who you are without arrogance while at the same time seeking ideas and advice from others.
  • Communication Skills. The ability to clearly exchange of ideas, feelings, intentions, attitudes, expectations, perceptions and direction through speech, gestures, behavior and writings.   The operative word is “exchange”.  A good communicator has the ability to not only clearly express themselves to others, but be able to listen and absorb ideas from others.

Other contributions to the poll included courage, strength, emotional intelligence, self confidence, character, caring, compassion, intuition, ability to relate, passion, perception, patience, creativity, authenticity, reliability, consistency, credibility, vulnerability, ability to make the right decisions and charisma.  I note that many but not all of these characteristics are embodied in the top six.

Patrick Lencioni is the author of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and “The Advantage” and seven other books.  In “The Advantage”, Lencioni presents the case for Organizational Health, which he believes is the single greatest advantage an organization can achieve.  He characterizes healthy organizations as those that possess:

  • Minimal politics
  • Minimal confusion
  • High morale
  • High productivity
  • Low turnover

To accomplish this, the organization’s leader must:

  1. Build a Cohesive Team
  2. Create, Over Communicate and Reinforce Clarity

And to build a cohesive team, the leader must:

  1. Develop trust by first risk demonstrating vulnerability so the team members will feel comfortable taking the same risk themselves.
  2. Overcome fear of conflict by encouraging passionate debate of the issues while avoiding hurting the feelings of the team members.
  3. Gain commitment without yielding to “analysis paralysis”.  This requires risk taking and making decisions without perfect information plus recognition and understanding that sometimes a decision will ultimately turn out to be wrong.  When this happens in a healthy organization, the team eagerly readdresses the issue to make a correction.  It should be a rare occurrence that the team reaches an impasse requiring the leader to be the ultimate arbitrator.
  4. Team accountability, that is, team members holding one another accountable.  The leader must encourage and allow the team to serve as the first and primary mechanism for accountability and not fall into the trap of taking on this function themselves. Focus on collective results of the group rather than personal goals of the members.  The leader must set the example here for if the team sees the leader pursuing personal goals at the expense of those of the group, the team members will take this as permission to do the same.

Jim Collins in his seminal work “Good to Great” draws basically the same conclusion using different words and methodology.  He describes leadership as a hierarchy consisting of five levels.  First, the leader must be a highly capable individual, a contributing team member and a competent manager able to “organize people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.”  To reach the Level Four, who Collins describes as “Effective Leaders”, managers must have a clear and compelling vision and be able to “catalyze commitment” to that vision. Top or Level 5 Leaders are further characterized as individuals “who blend extreme personal humility with intense professional will”. Building a successful company overshadows their personal egos.  They are incredibly ambitious “but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves”.

These three views of leaders and leadership suggest a remarkable consistency in thinking among those who have attempted to describe what makes a great leader.