Position doesn’t equal leadership. After all, an assistant may be a better leader than the CEO. What is it that determines leadership? The character of a person plays a significant part in determining a leader. I believe there are (at least!) seven qualities that you can’t lack as a leader.
Without integrity, it really doesn’t matter if you possess the other six qualities listed here. Integrity lays the foundation for the rest of your character. At the base of integrity is honesty – honesty about yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses, your blind spots. Honesty about who you are when no one is around to watch. Integrity in leadership is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures and outcomes. (Here is an excellent article about integrity in leadership.) As a leader of integrity, you earn the privilege of influencing others.
It is difficult to lead people somewhere they may not want to go. Leading means stepping out in front, clearing the path, and cutting a trail for others to follow. Leading can be lonely, frustrating, and full of isolation. Courage is the quality that allows a leader to step out, try something new, and give everything while leading others to do the same.
When a leader becomes satisfied – satisfied with how things are happening, satisfied with where things are headed, satisfied with what he has become, he may lack curiosity. Curiosity is what prompts a leader to ask “Why not me?” “How else can we make this happen?” “Who can accomplish this?” “What if we try?”. Curiosity takes the comfortable and causes discomfort. It conquers the weary moments in leadership and prompts excitement and forward movement. Without curiosity, a leader becomes a manager.
Things don’t always work out the way a leader expects them to. Leaders naturally want to be farther along than they are, as quickly as possible. But true leaders also know that the future cannot be obtained without persevering through what is right now. Pushing ahead when circumstances are difficult, asking again after being told no many times, working through a problem instead of giving up – these are ways that leaders choose to persevere. The leader who quits when leading becomes difficult lacks perseverance.
When a leader fails to relate to other people, she becomes ineffective. Empathy enables a leader to gain the trust of those who are following her. By admitting our humanness and remembering what it feels like to be in any given situation, we as leaders gain credibility. When our teams know that we have faced some of the same challenges they have, and when they understand that we have come through those challenges, they can be encouraged to keep going. Without empathy, leaders become ineffective.
Humility is the twin sister of empathy. It is the ability to admit that you are wrong. Humility is the practice of giving everyone else the credit while shouldering all of the blame. It is the capacity to lead someone else to become greater than you are. True leaders realize they will never “arrive”.
Sense of Humor
Yes, you read that correctly. A sense of humor is a critical quality for leaders to possess. It ties together all of the traits listed above. When a leader is able to laugh at himself, he lives out humility and courage. When a leader is able to laugh with others, he demonstrates empathy. A leader can never be fully true to himself, and full of integrity, without a sense of humor. And a sense of humor is often what helps leaders persevere. Leading is difficult, and the pressure is often crushing. The ability to laugh is truly a soothing balm to those you lead. Proverbs tells us “Laughter is like a good medicine.” It heals, protects, and strengthens.
Leaders will have many different qualities, and many more than the seven listed here. What other qualities do you believe a leader should possess?