If you type in ‘qualities of a strong / good / effective leader’ into Google, you’ll get a thousand different results by all sorts of people. Countless numbers of books have been written about leadership, and the kinds of advice you’ll receive may or may not pertain to your field. The idea of what people consider to a ‘good’ leader will vary quite significantly; a particularly notable split is between people with egalitarian versus authoritative leadership styles. This can make it quite difficult to distinguish between good and bad advice.
As is true with a lot of things, the truth always lies somewhere in the middle. Acting like a bully (authoritative) doesn’t gain you respect, but neither does an inability to show decisiveness (egalitarianism). Good leaders are able to adapt their approach to a number of different situations and personality types. Not every person reacts the same way to a particular style, and not every kind of situation demands the same kind of leadership. With all of this said, there are a few traits that stand out. Good leaders can vary their approaches as needed, but good leaders also display a few core character traits that remain constant throughout all of their dealings with people.
The following qualities are the kinds of traits and qualities that consistently excellent leaders use to inspire and motivate their teams.
They are pragmatic
Nobody respects people who are ‘wishy-washy’. Neither do they respect people who single-mindedly pursue one goal without any consideration for facts or opposing viewpoints. A leader knows when to take action and when to wait. Being able to consider the facts before deciding how to go about tacking an issue is something that a lot of self-described leaders have not fully mastered. Even worse are the ones who made rash, poorly-informed decisions, but by a stroke of luck came out unscathed. Your employees will look to you for guidance, and showing them that you can make solid, well-informed decisions will greatly increase their confidence in you as a leader.
They show compassion and empathy
Don’t mistake this for weakness. Letting your employees walk all over you is not the same as showing that you care about them. Being able to separate yourself from your workers on a professional level is a necessary thing to do – you are not their friend, you are their boss. With that said, your employees are not robots. They are human beings with the same kinds of fears, insecurities and flaws that you have. Showing your employees that you see them as people and not numbers on a spread sheet will go a long way towards making them see you as a person who takes an interest in them as an individual.
People want to be recognised and understood, and showing them that you are able to relate to them on a personal level without taking any sides will go a long way towards motivating them to work harder for you. If you see that they are not working as hard as they normally do, ask them what’s wrong instead of yelling at them. If they are in a particularly bad mood, don’t threaten them with punishment if they don’t change their demeanor in an instant. Make some effort to find out why they are feeling the way that they are. You may still need to take action if their temperament is affecting the business, but making the effort to try and empathise with them first makes a huge difference in how your team perceives you.
They take ownership of successes and failures
There is an African proverb that accurately describes what a lot of bosses in the workplace are like:
‘Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan’
As unfortunate as this state of affairs is, many ‘leaders’ happily take credit for other people’s hard work, but blame other people when things go wrong. If you want to lose the respect of your team, try blaming them when your ideas go wrong. You will quickly find your employees quitting, transferring, or working less hard at their jobs. Celebrate your successes, but own up to your failures as well. You are not infallible; no matter how experienced you are, mistakes eventually happen. As the boss, you are ultimately responsible for what happens on your floor. Don’t blame other people when things don’t go as planned.