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Do You Have The #1 Quality of Great Leaders

Do You Have The #1 Quality of Great Leaders

Too often leadership development has been a process of turning out exact replicas of a certain personality type.  Commanding, egocentric and persuasive leaders have, in the past, been seen as ideal.  Even years after the corporate scandals of Enron and WorldCom, where some of these larger-than-life personalities were at the very root of the problem, one would think we’d be over our infatuation with charismatic leaders.

Of course there are common qualities that great leaders possess: courage, integrity, tenacity, just to name a few.  But these traits can come in many different forms.  One could argue that the leadership styles of Mahatma Ghandi, Lee Iaccoca and Colin Powell are vastly different while there are some traits they all had in common.

The question is can these traits be developed? Is something as intangible as integrity teachable? Or is it an innate quality that you either have or you don’t?  While the actual quality of integrity may be difficult to measure, the behaviors that exhibit integrity are easily recognized.

“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born”. ~ Warren G. Bennis

This article and subsequent articles contains ten critical qualities of great leaders – starting with the #1 Quality of Vision.  There are a few suggestions of how to develop these qualities in yourself or in others.  To turn this into an interactive exercise, rate yourself on these qualities 1-10, 10 being the highest.

Then take this list to five of your closest associates and ask them to honestly rate your skill level.  Be sure to discuss any gaps in your scores, being open and gracious to the feedback you’ve asked for.

VISION – “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but has no vision,” said Helen Keller.  Vision is the one characteristic most often associated with great leadership.  One definition of leadership is the ability to turn a dream or vision of a desired future into a reality—with and through the cooperation of other people.

A shared vision will inspire others to follow your lead.  It is the desired state or goal that a leader focuses on in order to deal with setbacks, resistance, personal weaknesses, etc.  Nelson Mandela comes to mind.  His vision of an apartheid-free South Africa helped him deal with persecution and imprisonment which he endured for over 25 years.  A clear vision pursued with conviction and persistence is more than half the battle.

Great leaders also have the ability to stay focused on their vision while managing day-to-day activities.  This vision should then guide the goals and activities of people who work with this leader.

Where is your vision carrying you? Where will it take your organization? How do you develop this quality of Vision?  Here are some suggestions:

1) Articulate your organization’s current Vision.

2) Assess whether your strategies and goals support this Vision.

3) Periodically evaluate whether day-to-day activities, meetings, projects, are in line with your organization’s strategic plan to achieve its Vision.

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion.” ~ Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus, University of Notre Dame

“To be a leader, you have to make people want to follow you, and nobody wants to follow someone who doesn’t know where he is going.” ~ Joe Namath

“There’s nothing more demoralizing than a leader who can’t clearly articulate why we’re doing what we’re doing.” ~ James Kouzes and Barry Posner

While vision is the foundation of a leader’s success, vision alone is not enough. In order to get others to move in the direction of the desired goal, the leader must also be able to communicate that vision and the path for achieving it.  The next few articles will cover the other crucial qualities of great leaders.