“Success is a journey, not a destination. It requires constant effort, vigilance and re-evaluation” - Mark Twain
“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others” – Bill Gates
We all have known great “leaders” in our lifetime – a politician who inspired us, a public figure who we admire, and/or a boss or colleague who has impressed us professionally. We truly know a leader when we see one.
The American public is fascinated by the qualities of leadership – what it takes to be a great leader, how one develops leadership skills, and how people prepare to be leaders. Some argue that people are “born leaders” and others argue that leadership is an acquired skill based on education and experience.
Corporations are no different than any other organizations in society. Great leaders exist in the business world. Their experiences are very different. There is no one recipe for success. But there are several common traits which cut across different leaders in different contexts.
1. Inspiration – Leaders have to inspire others to act. A leader’s ability to inspire can be communicated in several ways – through words or actions. A leader has to set an example and inspire the people he or she leads. People want to work hard, to have meaning in their work and to feel inspired as they work.
2. Commitment to a Common Goal – A CEO who is committed to promoting him or herself is not a “leader” for a common goal. A selfish CEO may be a great technocrat, financial wizard, or other expert, but without the ability to commit to a common objective which inspire a group, the leader will only be as good as his or her own performance. A great leader will encourage, inspire and demonstrate why a greater goal is worth the effort. A true leader will bring together everyone to accomplish more than the sum of each person’s performance.
3. Communicate a Vision – A CEO who is able to communicate and express empathy (seeing things through the eyes of another person) can earn the respect and loyalty of the employees who work for a company. It is important to communicate ideas and objectives to which employees and managers can relate – the ability to connect with people is an essential personality trait for every leader.
4. Change – A leader should be willing to reassess and change, not for change’s sake but for a new and meaningful goal. History is replete with leaders who re-evaluated and changed strategy or tactics. A leader should never confuse his or her ego with a strategy. Change can be a very positive strategy, if necessary. Re-evaluating a policy or strategy is important and should never be avoided for fear of the consequences.
5. Confidence – A leader can only lead so long as he or she acts with confidence. Mistakes are always possible and will occur. Confidence does not depend on the absence of a mistake – instead, confidence is the result of an honest evaluation and analysis of alternatives and proper decision making.