By Somali K Chakrabarti
‘Mostly leaders are born. Some inherit leadership. Some come by default.’ These statements coming from an acquaintance on social media induced me to write this post.
When we think of leadership, traits such as charisma, authority, courage, oratory skills easily and instinctively come to our mind. These qualities are associated with great leaders or inspirational figures such as Margaret Thatcher, M. K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr.or Churchill and most these seem to be inborn qualities.
It goes without saying that not all of us can have the style, presence or oratory skills of these great historical figures. Just like some people are gifted singers, while many others struggle to strike the right notes, some people are naturally bestowed with a charismatic persona, while others are not.
Does it mean that in absence of inborn leadership traits, one cannot be a leader? Let us dig into it a bit more. Here I list down 8 key traits of leaders, in an attempt to identify which of these leadership skills can be developed. . .
A purpose can change a life from ordinary to extraordinary.
Only an individual with clarity of purpose can inspire, motivate and align people with his vision. This key leadership quality can be attributed to a great extent to the situations that a person is exposed to and how one reacts to them. Some people, albeit a few, find their calling at a young age. However, for most of us, it may take ages to figure out what the purpose in life is and many of us may never find it at all.
This, however, is not a reason to fret about.
In absence of a greater cause or purpose in life, you can still set goals that serve as anchors and devise some philosophy that makes life meaningful. These goals, whether professional or personal can be as simple as learning a new skill, pursuing a passion or improving certain conditions at work or community. When the objective is meaningful and relevant to others as well, it will inspire people to subscribe to it or to support the goal, in the process elevating you into a leadership role.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. ~ Proverb
The next two key things in a leader’s dictionary are consistency and resilience. A person, who is consistent in the pursuit of his /her objectives, conveys a sense of ownership, commitment, integrity and stability. Consistency renders credibility, it helps in setting expectations and standards of behavior and creates trust among the team or followers. Inconsistency of action and behavior impairs credibility.
Perseverance is what helps a person to deal with adversities and bounce back with gumption. A resilient leader can pull his team together through tough times and get them going towards the desired goal. These habits too can be inculcated with patience and practice.
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. ~ Charles Darwin
As situations change, a leader must anticipate the challenges and learn newer ways of responding to change. A leader must be open to seek impartial opinion on issues to understand different perspectives and address any existing performance gaps. To avoid expending time, efforts and energy on trivial issues, a leader must also know to pick the battles wisely.
Since adaptability is about dealing with change, you can pick up this quality provided you are receptive to new ideas, are willing to learn, unlearn and develop new perspectives and consciously choose to avoid being driven by hubris, which incidentally is the reason for many a unsound decisions.
No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it. ~ HE Luccock
Collaboration is particularly important as organizations are becoming flatter. One may have to motivate people, over whom the person has no direct authority, to achieve a goal whose value may not even be immediately apparent to all. Collaboration may at times require leaders to yield power, subordinate their immediate agenda and give up resources for the greater good.
Since the skills required for effective collaboration are different from knowing how to work effectively in a functional team, you may need to develop these consciously with practice. How you collaborate with coworkers matters a lot in your being an effective leader over the long haul. Leaders who invest time and efforts to build networks are more likely to get support and resources from others in pursuit of their goals.
The purpose of leadership is to develop more leaders. ~ Ralph Nader
Even without a formal authority, a person can add value to others by sharing something meaningful as an insight, a usable idea, a helpful tip or even a validation. People generally appreciate when they gain something useful that they may not be quite expecting and it increases their willingness to reciprocate.
For those with a formal authority, developing the next line of leadership is crucial for sustained performance. For that leaders need to empower others to take appropriate decisions, thereby instilling a sense of ownership in them. A confident leader does not hesitate to pass on the laurels to his team while owning up any shortcomings in performance. This quality can be acquired if you are willing to overcome your inhibitions and insecurities and are prepared to develop others for key roles. .
Good Communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard. ~ Anne Spencer
Creative leaders raise the energy and excitement levels within a team and encourage people to put their best foot forward. Creativity, here, is in the context of leadership. It includes providing intellectual stimulation to the team, innovating, being able to spot and tap talent, diffusing situations of conflict and helping team to realize their potential as they contribute to the leader’s vision. Any person, with some passion and interest can cultivate creativity to a greater or a lesser extent, in his/her field of work.
Positive outlook helps to build up resilience, creates a sense of optimism and a vibrant environment for work.
Again, it is possible to train the mind to think positively and exhibit self restraint against negative behavioral tendencies such as cribbing, arrogance, self pity or being judgmental or too fixated with one’s own viewpoint.
Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives. ~ Oprah Winfrey
Empathy is a key part of emotional intelligence. Several researchers believe that it is fundamental to leadership and is positively related to job performance. An empathetic leader has a better understanding of the needs of his/her team and hence is in a position to support the team, create conducive work environment and help people to overcome inhibitions in the way of their performance.
Fortunately, empathy is not a fixed trait; you can develop and enhance your empathy skills, given proper time and adequate support.
I gravitate towards gravitas. ~ Morgan Freeman
As much as a leader needs to show empathy, it is equally important that a leader should be able to project and demonstrate authority. Irrespective of whether the authority is derived from a formal source such as position or an informal source such as knowledge, a leader must maintain gravitas and exhibit dignity so that people do not take him/her lightly. A leader also needs to judge situations and prevent them from getting out of hand.
The amount of empathy and authority that leaders are expected to demonstrate varies subjected to differences in cultures.
While it is true that it is not easy to do something that goes against the grain of your core, nonetheless, I think that with the right amount of motivation, effort and determination, and through proper coaching, training, or developmental opportunities, people can develop the necessary skills to lead. What do you think?
How many of these leadership skills do you have?
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References: White Paper : Empathy In The Workplace Bar-On & Parker, 2000; George, 2000; Goleman, 1995; Salovey & Mayer, 1990