What makes an effective leader?
It would seem that there is no single widely-accepted definition of leadership. We can, however, perhaps confirm six basic points that offer insights that can be useful in our personal leadership practice.
- Leaders are made, not born. They are made by themselves, more by their own life experience and high levels of self-awareness and self-management than by external factors. Leadership can be learned. In other words, the midwife does not come out with the new baby and announce ‘It’s a leader!’
- Effective leaders all seem to share the quality of rugged determination with the ability to overcome self-doubt. This requires the capacity to unlearn and reflect on mistakes, as much as to learn.
- Without followers there can be no leaders, so the ability to influence and engage is crucial.
- Effective leaders are not necessarily people who are loved or admired. Popularity is not leadership; results are what count.
- Effective leaders are highly visible, but in various ways, depending on the context.
- Effective sustainable leadership is not about rank or position, title, privilege or money. It is about responsibility and followership.
It has been said that effective leaders know
- Who they are
- Their strengths and how to deploy them
- Their weaknesses and how to compensate for them
- What they want and why they want it
- How to communicate this want to others in a way that gains co-operation and support
- How to achieve their goals.
The importance of EQ
From the above, it is clear that leadership is not about IQ. Some of the brainiest people turn out to be the least successful in leadership roles. It is the emotional dimension that is more critical.
Daniel Goleman’s research in this area clearly shows that the ratio of EQ (emotional quotient) to IQ in leadership roles is 85:15 per cent. In all other jobs, Goleman shows this to be two thirds (EQ) to one third (IQ). In short, key people in all sectors need 21st-century EQ capabilities. At the heart of this is connecting with others, to release the talent that will deliver critical results.
So, effective leadership is a learnable capacity that today, more often than not, is anchored in the following key skills:
- The ability to build effective relationships
- Knowing how to influence without coercion and power
- The ability to demonstrate to others the benefits of commitment
- Being prepared to take responsibility, while offering other contributors a responsible say
- The capacity to provide a tangible, easy-to-understand vision of collective success – one that all stakeholders can grasp and support.
Great leaders put things into context and offer clarity that is outcome-based around how the vision will be achieved.
Leadership is not only about big picture thinking, motivation, inspiration and transformation, however: plans, pathways, clear objectives and a sense of how individual people fit into things are also critical to success. Effective leaders
- Brief people on expectations
- Agree the boundaries
- Contract on performance objectives
- Offer the requisite support for attainment and development
- Provide on-going feedback on achievement and challenge
- Tackle the difficult issues as they arise.
As they do all the above, successful leaders are also exercising their skills in deep listening, opportunity sensing and upping team spirit and a sense of mutuality, while challenging and realigning appropriately. In short, success can be said to involve balancing priorities within a positive and optimistic atmosphere, managing dilemmas, and taking hard decisions when necessary. Whoever sits at the top sets the tone. Leaders have the choice; they will also be held accountable for how this choice is exercised.
You might like to go through this exercise to assess your own effectiveness as a leader.