What is the definition of a leader? Many people confuse leaders with managers, claiming that a leader is organized, methodical, detail-oriented, etc. While all of this may be true, and certainly these are traits that effective managers should have, they are not necessarily the characteristics that immediately come to mind when one thinks of what qualities a leader should possess. So what might some of those qualities be?
First off, one should have a sense of what defines a leader. It has been said that a leader is someone who will have people who will follow him wherever he goes. Note that this does not mean that these followers necessarily like the leader as a person, though they may. Rather, it means that they trust him to lead them through difficult situations and to emerge better for it at the end.
Given this definition, it stands to reason that there are some traits that an effective leader should possess. For example:
Integrity. This means that a leader has certain values, and actions that back up those values. This person can be trusted, and can be relied on to do what he says he will. Dealing with others honestly, acting in a predictable manner, being in control of one’s emotions, and not dealing with people harshly are all signs of integrity, and make for a leader whose followers will feel comfortable approaching him.
Dedication. Not only should a leader be dedicated to the cause at hand and his followers, but he must also show this dedication by being willing to spend whatever time, energy, or effort are needed to complete the task in front of him and his team. A leader in this sense leads by example, inspiring dedication from others as he does so. A leader will also not ask others to do something that he would not be willing to do himself – and again, follows this up by acting accordingly.
Generosity. This can have a number of meanings, but one result of this is that a leader will be willing to give credit where credit is due, spreading that credit for success far and wide as appropriate. A good leader will also see where his personal responsibility is when it comes to failures, as failures are often a result of failures in management or leadership.
Openness. A good leader will be able to listen to new ideas, and encourages his team to think creatively and to not be afraid to bring up new ideas, even if they involve completely new ways of doing things or thinking of things. Effective leaders can suspend their judgment while listening to these new ideas, and will not be afraid to try them out. This kind of openness will build a sense of mutual respect between a leader and his followers, and also helps keep the team’s vision alive through the introduction of new concepts.
Fairness. A leader’s followers must feel that he is treating everyone fairly, that punishment will not be meted out on a whim, and that accomplishments will be rewarded. A true leader will see beyond the top artificial layer and be able to discern what the facts are, before passing judgment, and without jumping to conclusions.
As teamwork is deemed necessary, strong leadership skills allow leaders to initiate what is needed in order for the team to function effectively.