What Makes A Great Leader?

Blog | People Skills Development

A business is only as good as it’s people – key characteristics of great leaders

Are you trying to be a great leader?

Your reputation as a leader is your most valuable asset.  By being a great leader, your people will trust you, your people will feel able to approach you and talk with you and finally, your people will follow you.  You get it right, they’ll follow you almost anywhere and they’ll deliver for you and your team.

A great leader will handle a challenge or change in their business well and by doing so, they could prosper greatly.  Handle it poorly and you put yourself, your team and your business at risk.

Some of the most common modern-day great leaders cited include Richard Branson, Christine Lagarde, Steve Jobs, Angela Merkel and Sheryl Sandberg are all different but they share some key characteristics.

Just a few characteristics of a great leader:

  • Can communicate effectively, placing listening as a priority and gives a clear sense of direction
  • Demonstrates trust in their people
  • Takes accountability
  • Provides honest feedback and guidance or development when necessary
  • Is comfortable with being challenged, even from more junior members of the business
  • Understand the importance of developing and maintaining a reputation
  • Creates a “Just” Culture in which their people feel fairly, firmly and honestly treated

Can communicate effectively

A good leader can communicate effectively at all levels of the organisation. This means placing listening as a priority.  ‘Seek first to understand before being understood’ – Stephen Covey. They will provide a clear sense of direction and purpose for employees.  They can inspire people to strive towards a compelling vision and communicate how they plan to get there and their reasons for it.  They will continue to communicate through multiple channels, be visible and approachable putting their best face forward.  They are honest when communicating and consistent in delivering their message.

Demonstrates trust in their people

A great leader recognises that they cannot do everything by themselves.  They need to delegate to their team around them.  They will know their team, what their skills and capabilities are and how much they can handle.  They will trust their team to come to them if they need help if there is a problem and will meet what is requested of them. By delegating and trusting their people, it not only frees up more time for the leader, but it will also empower people and give them a sense of personal involvement in a situation.

Accepts accountability

A great leader is willing to answer for the outcomes of their decisions, their actions and behaviours in all situations.  Accountable leaders do not blame others when things go wrong, instead, they assume ownership for the performance of their teams and make things right. Equally, when things go right, accountable leaders will stand at the back of the room, they will not take the praise but rather pass on the praise to their team.

Provides honest feedback

A great leader will provide honest feedback and guidance or development when necessary. This is formative feedback, delivered with support not brutal honesty. People want to feel you are genuinely interested in them and are personally investing in their success.  Helping those you lead to understanding what worked and what didn’t and how they can move forward should be the goal of great feedback.  Great feedback that is delivered with feeling will enable a team to flourish.

Is comfortable with being challenged

Poor leaders don’t want to be challenged by their employees – and can’t handle being wrong – good leaders want to be challenged, whilst great leaders create a culture where they encourage and invite people to challenge one another. Being challenged by your people with great ideas for doing things better is the recipe for long term success.  A great leader’s team will feel confident enough to challenge the status quo with new ideas and new thinking about ways of executing the strategy and achieving business results.

Understand the importance of developing and maintaining a reputation

Your reputation as a leader is your most valuable asset.  A strong reputation makes it easier to earn respect from your peers and to advance your business goals.  A great leader will develop, live and manage their personal brand as a leader consistently and authentically.  A personal brand is the total experience of the relationship others have with who you are and what you stand for as a leader – regardless of the circumstances.

A leader with a poor, untrustworthy or inconsistent reputation will often find their leadership capabilities diminish. Being a leader isn’t about making popular decisions, it is about making the right decision and being consistent in this approach. A leader that shows consistency and understands the importance of reputation will maintain and develop a following because their actions can be relied on. They walk the talk!

Creates a “Just” Culture in which their people feel fairly, firmly and honestly treated.

Great leaders create a culture within which their people feel fairly and appropriately treated. Creating a culture in which people can openly admit to making mistakes without fear of unfair retribution is vital if lessons are to be learnt and improvements are to be made. Failure to achieve this makes people hide mistakes, avoid responsibility and miss the opportunities to learn from errors and for others to learn from them too.

The aim should be to create an environment where people report what went wrong, but also when it might have gone wrong, to ideally prevent errors that haven’t even happened yet.

If you want to find out more about developing leadership skills with your team, get in touch.