Contrary to popular belief, the world’s great leaders were made, not born. The skills that make a good leader can all be acquired through learning, practice and conscious application.
Unfortunately, many schools, colleges and programs that are geared toward training young people for the future do not recognize, appreciate or actively encourage the acquisition of leadership qualities in their young learners. For this reason, a generation of kids, teens and young adults in the U.S. may be growing up without the opportunity to develop the qualities that would see them in challenging and rewarding leadership roles as adults.
Great leaders often bring about transformative change, altering the course of other people’s lives with inspiration, encouragement and example. A great leader doesn’t just spell success for a project, company or even country. Strong leaders also inspire others to find the best in themselves and to achieve great things.
Think of a leader who has touched your life. How did he or she have a positive impact on you?
Our list of the top five leadership qualities demonstrates that a good leader can be identified, nurtured and developed, allowing us to shape the great leaders of the future.
A good leader understands cultural diversity (and is inclusive)
In an age of globalization, it’s more important than ever for leaders to understand cultural diversity and how it affects the ways in which we work together. A good leader must also understand the importance of being inclusive, and how this can be put into practice.
Leaders must understand which aspects of an interaction are due to personality and which can be attributed to differences in culture, in order that these be respected and valued. Noticing, appreciating and harnessing the differences between members of a team can be used as a tool to help bring people together. In short, a good leader knows that differences don’t have to divide us.
The great leaders of tomorrow will not be afraid to engage in vital discussion about cultural diversity, for fear of being labelled as politically incorrect.
A good leader is a skilled collaborator
A collaborative leader doesn’t seek to control. Rather, they inspire others with their willingness to become part of a team and draw on the skills of others to achieve the best results. Collaboration is about sharing and bringing people together rather than operating as individuals or small, distinct teams.
A great leader does not engage in power struggles. Instead, they display an openness to learning from others and share their own knowledge freely in return.
Old style models of business practice often adopted a corporate “dog eat dog” or “every man for himself” ethos that valued the contribution of the individual over the efforts of the team. There has been a recent shift in thinking, however, with more companies understanding the limitations of working in isolation. Collaborative leaders are therefore valued for their ability to get the best out of everyone, while also making the individual feel valued and appreciated.
A good leader is creative
Creativity may not always be highly valued in a corporate setting, but the best leaders are able to abandon rigid or traditional structures in favor of innovative approaches that involve creative thinking.
Being creative means looking at situations and problems in a way that other people may not, in order to find new and often more successful ways of dealing with or solving them.
Creative leaders are visionaries, using imagination, innovation and originality to stand out from the crowd, and encouraging those who follow them to do the same. Creative leaders are also more likely to encourage growth, individuality and development in others, as they don’t restrict their teams with set structures and practices.
A good leader is capable of critical thinking
Critical thinking is a difficult concept to define. It’s the understanding that there is never just one way to approach or solve a problem. Rather, there will always be several outcomes and approaches worth deliberating, and critical thinking is the way in which these can be considered.
Many people have a goal in mind when facing a given situation and will also have a fixed idea of how they want to achieve this. Decisions will therefore be made quickly, without any real time being devoted to exploring other potential outcomes or avenues.
Great leaders retain an open mind, using critical thinking to explore the process of finding a solution, rather than concentrating on the solution itself.
A good leader communicates well
A good leader will always strive to communicate in a way that is direct, specific and clear. With people looking to you for guidance, there is no room for ambiguity. Let people know what you need them to do, offering boundaries and expectations that will allow them to hone their focus. Be direct, specific and clear.
Leaders must be able to communicate within a variety of different relationships, on a one-to-one basis and in small and large groups, sometimes on a national or even a global scale. The ability to adapt your tone of voice is vital, in order to reach a variety of different audiences. You will also need to express and share information with people who might have very different experience, viewpoints or levels of understanding, both to you and to each other.
Great leaders motivate, inspire and encourage through skillful communication, helping others to believe in their abilities and to achieve amazing things.
Remember that an important part of effective communication is the ability to listen with empathy. Great leaders have the ability to tune in to people’s thoughts and emotions in order to help them feel valued and understood.
Bottom line: This list of five desirable qualities in a leader is only the tip of the iceberg but goes some way towards proving that leadership is a teachable skill, and one that our children and young people deserve to explore.