When I have to hire someone for any position in my company, I always pay close attention to the below discussed 7 attributes of leadership, because I always strive to hire people with leadership traits (even when the job is not a key managerial position.) I always want the best people, no matter the size, complexity or responsibility of the job. I know that, as time goes by, groups of workers with leadership traits perform and coordinate a lot better than simple people. And the today new assistant may hopefully become a very important director in a few years.
Furthermore, I prefer the democratic (also referred to as participative) leadership style: in this case, the leader offers guidance to the group, but also participates in the group, and promotes feedback from other members. Note that this style is not inconsistent with the view of everyone in a group acting as a leader! The democratic style is also suitable for the modern dynamic environments because it allows dealing with fast-changing circumstances. Other styles, such as authoritarian or delegative leaderships, are very harmful and obsolete.
Concretely, these are the 7 attributes of leadership that I expect my employees to have:
1. Solidarity: A leader breathes through her group. A true leader knows how to work in groups, and should try to understand the problems of other workers. In sound groups, solidarity among members is a symmetrical relation. Solidarity is the first step a leader should take in order to gain the respect and attention of her teammates. Leaders exhibit strong confidence in the ability of the other members of the group to meet the work’s expectations.
2. Modesty: A leader exerts leadership almost unconsciously, without giving importance to the whole leading concept. Leaders don’t show as leaders… they act as leaders. Leaders keep the participative environment of the group, and always do their work with the idea of participating in a collective project. Group and collective are keywords for leaders. The idea of isolated leaders is an obnoxious fallacy. Any person appointed to a managerial position acquires the power to command and enforce obedience by virtue of the authority of her position. Nevertheless, leaders don’t enforce obedience… they gain it. Modesty keeps the leader from exerting the fake leadership coming from authority of position. The true leadership is NOT associated with positions of authority (but obviously the converse has to be true if the organization is to succeed.)
3. Self-confidence: Leaders know themselves, and exhibit a complete domain over their behavior. Moreover, leaders know which tasks are at their reach, and don’t set unrealistic goals. This way, leaders know what their virtues and limits are, and they don’t hide them. Self-confidence gives the force to be persistent to attain the task and vision. Remember that more often than not, leadership implies defying the established order, the status quo. Therefore, self-confidence is vital to success.
4. Initiative: Leaders are proactive, not reactive. I had a manager that only waited and acted upon receiving orders from his superiors, strictly following the (frequently wrong) boss’ guidelines. Not only this behavior is inefficient for the business, but it harms the role-modeling aspect of leaders. Workers and teammates tend to identify with the values of their superiors, and no company wants this kind of passive attitude to be learned by its workers.
5. Creativity: A true leader is always looking for ways to develop her creativity to its maximum. Here, the vision of the leader is very important. Outstanding leaders articulate:
- a working framework congruent with the values of the other members of the group,
- efficient and effective ways to completing the assigned task,
- and ways to match the sub-activities with the members’ interests and experience.
6. Passion: The leader never stops learning, and displays a high level of consciousness. Leaders’ actions signal the way for their teammates. Leaders take responsibility for each of their choices and decisions without blaming others or looking for lame excuses. Leaders exhibit a passion for their work, and are faithful to their visions and beliefs. They engage in excellent behavior and make outstanding self-sacrifices in the interest of their group, if necessary.
Summarizing these 6 attributes, we will recur to the masterpiece by Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader, which clearly distinguishes between managers (a typical position of authority, but not necessarily occupied by a leader) and real leaders:
- Managers administer, leaders innovate
- Managers ask how and when, leaders ask what and why
- Managers focus on systems, leaders focus on people
- Managers do things right, leaders do the right things
- Managers maintain, leaders develop
- Managers rely on control, leaders inspire trust
- Managers have a short-term perspective, leaders have a longer-term perspective
- Managers accept the status-quo, leaders challenge the status-quo
- Managers have an eye on the bottom line, leaders have an eye on the horizon
- Managers imitate, leaders originate
- Managers emulate the classic good soldier, leaders are their own person
- Managers copy, leaders show originality
7. Symbolism: For me, this is the most important trait, which projects and summarizes all the other attributes. The leader is a symbol. This is the agglomerative attribute of leaders. Albeit leaders are oriented to their work (and not to their self-exaltation), they are a symbol of the group, which may easily mean that they are a symbol of your company. This way, leaders constitute an external (and internal!) representation of your business. And, as I want the best representation, and the best results for my company, I like to accept and work with leaders. True leaders.
P.S. This is the original article I published on my old blog, Life, Money & Development. I’m making it available now on my new blog, You can’t stop the journey.