A manufacturer recently invited me to teach a short seminar revolving around the idea of what great leaders do as opposed to our worst leaders. For this organization and for many others, developing effective leaders is a critical business topic, one that is key to business success and sustainability.
What does it take to be an effective leader? Hit that magical Google button and you’ll get well over 250 million leadership articles with titles such as:
- Top 10 Qualities That Make A Great Leader
- 10 Impressive Characteristics Great Leaders Have
- The 9 Traits That Define Great Leadership
The most widely accepted number of needed characteristics is 9 or 10, although I did come across The 4 Leadership Traits That Translate to Business Success and the 5 Traits of Successful Leaders. On the other end of the spectrum, I saw The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader and the 23 Traits of Good Leaders.
Twenty-three. While that is a lot of things an effective leader must be, I can’t push back too much. Early in ProCulture’s standard leadership program, we review a list of 20 characteristics, in no particular order, that make for an effective leader:
Yes, it’s a long list. However, the best leaders exemplify and embody all of these leadership traits. But as the PCC leadership discussion continues, we quickly decide that an effective leader cannot display all of these characteristics all of the time.
For example, some days when the creative juices just aren’t flowing, a leader will rely on others for ideas and out-of-the-box thinking. Or the leader is sick, had a fight with the spouse, or got little sleep as he/she comforted a sick child during a long night of crying. During those days, “energetic” may not describe a certain effective leader.
So while a great leader is not required to display all of the above qualities all of the time, there are two traits that are must-haves. These two characteristics must be front and center for leadership effectiveness. No matter how sick, no matter what the distraction, and even under the most intense pressure and stress, these leadership traits are always on display in our most effective leaders. They are vulnerability and character.
Vulnerability: I’ve yet to come across a perfect leader or person. At some point, everyone makes a mistake. Or we don’t know something that we probably should. Or we’re not confident in a decision or even afraid of moving in a certain direction.
A vulnerable leader is willing to say: “I don’t know” or “I’m a little uneasy about the possible outcome.” Or, what is usually harder for many people: “I was wrong.” Close on the heels of admitting being wrong is the all-important “I’m sorry.”
Leaders who can’t admit mistakes and who can’t ask for forgiveness for some wrongdoing may consider themselves an effective leader but will at some point turn around and see that no one is following.
Character: This is a top-two trait because so many other qualities flow from a leader who has good, high character.
A leader who has character will always:
- try to be fair;
- be honest;
- strive to help others;
- work hard;
Get the point? All leadership traits listed earlier in this post flow from good character. A leader with character will always try to be knowledgeable, confident, and disciplined. And for those times when one of those leadership traits is not on display, the vulnerability thing kicks in with an “I’m sorry and I’ll work hard to do better next time.”
So it’s pretty simple. Effective leadership requires just two leadership traits, character and vulnerability. Any leader who does not exhaustively pursue these traits may claw their way to the top of the leadership mountain, but when they arrive, may find no one has joined the journey.
What is your leadership list? What do you think is important for effective leaders to display?
Darren K. Ford
I've enjoyed a great career. Worked in many different industries with great coworkers and customers. I talk to a lot of people while drinking a lot of coffee. I read constantly. From all of this, I have much to say.