Have you thought about what sort of leader you are and what kind of leader you want to be? Being a leader is tough. Leaders direct and support the many activities and functions of an organisation so that it can achieve its goals. Leaders manage people by providing clarity of purpose, making decisions, having the courage to see decisions through, and they perform with passion and enthusiasm.
Becoming a good leader is a lifelong endeavour. Here is a summary of four of the critical characteristics of an effective leader.
Leaders are very clear about their personal and work goals. They send out a consistent message and their teams understand and work in unison and support. Purpose acts like a magnet — it pulls you in the right direction. A clear purpose for yourself and your organisation gives you a destination to travel towards, and you don’t spend time on time-wasting distractions.
When you are clear about what you want to achieve, you can formulate a solid plan to get there, and your team will understand how they fit in. To succeed in life and to achieve outstanding results, you must identify exactly what you want to achieve. The old saying goes: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Know your destination so that you can create a plan/map to get there.
Clarity of purpose helps you to see what actions are important, and what actions you should not misuse your time on. With a clear purpose, you will move in that direction. A clear purpose helps you to be proactive, so you make things happen rather than waiting for things to happen to you.
A bad decision is better than no decision. Leaders commit to and deliver on their decisions. They don’t dither. They stand by what they have put their minds to.
We should not confuse decisiveness with taking decisions in a hurry. You need sufficient information on which to base your decision. This does not mean analysis-paralysis, but you must base your decision on facts and information and not mere intuition or rumour.
Think of a referee in a sports game. The referee knows all the rules of the game – information. When the referee sees an infringement, the referee must apply the rules – take a decision. If the decision is delayed, the moment is lost, and the game goes on. By not deciding at the right time, an opportunity is squandered.
A decision not to make a decision is also a decision. It should be a purposeful act and not a dithering avoidance of a situation. This is where clarity of purpose comes in. When you are clear about your purpose, you have a framework within which to make decisions. The essential questions are: will this decision support the achievement of the goal?
Being a leader means you sometimes must make difficult decisions and risk the disapproval of others. Courage is the capacity to confront your fears. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courageous people do feel fear, but they can manage and overcome their fear so that it does not stop their actions. Leaders learn to manage their emotional response to fear so that they manage it rather than have the fear managing them.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela
With a clear purpose and firm decisions, leaders can stand up against situations that threaten them. They are not swayed by opinion and negativity. They act in a way that is consistent with their values. Courage is to know when to stand up and speak; and when to keep quiet and reflect. Courageous leaders manage their emotions and their fears to do the right thing. When you have taken the right decisions and when you are going, you can weather any adversity, because the basis of your action is right. Courage allows us to accomplish good things.
Passion is the driving force that takes leaders to greatness. It is the deployment of energy and enthusiasm to achieve worthwhile goals. Passion arises when we are deeply interested in something, be it serving an organisation or something we must achieve.
How do we build the passion within us? You start by doing. Set your mind to becoming a great leader and do it! Seek out leadership roles and opportunities. Read up about leadership. Find out about different models of leadership and see which ones resonate most closely with your values and aspirations. Read biographies of leaders you admire. Model the behaviour of great leaders in your organisation and your social circle. Repetition breeds familiarity and familiarity leads to mastery.
Each of the four attributes we have discussed is powerful, but when combined they support and enhance each other, and take you to places you never dreamed possible.
- Clarity of purpose sets you in the right direction, so you are not distracted with peripheral matters.
- Decisiveness means taking decisions that support the achievement of that purpose. Having a purpose is no good unless you decide which actions to take and which not to take.
- Courage will help you to stick to the path despite criticism or difficulties.
- Passion gives you the energy and enthusiasm to work at it and continue to work at it. That’s why having a clear understanding of your purpose is necessary.
A life of achievement and success is everyone’s goal. We spend so much time in organisations – let’s use the time wisely and do something worthwhile with our lives. Let’s make the world a better place.
How do you stack up against each of these criteria? It’s a tough order. What do you have to work on to improve your leadership skills? Let us link arms and encourage each other in this wonderful venture. It might just be the most important thing we ever do.