What is it that people look for in their leaders?
What are those key characteristics that make the difference between successful leaders and those that hold only positional power over their constituents?
What is the foundation for good leadership?
What leaders say they do is one thing; what constituents say they want and how well leaders meet these expectations is another. ~ The Leadership Challenge
Leadership takes two. It is the joint effort between the leader and the follower and requires both to be successful. Any discussion on the topic of leadership must look not only at the practices and expectations of the leader, but also the expectations of the followers. So what do followers expect?
In The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner, we get a very good list of what constituents expect. Based on thousands of surveys over 20 years, the researchers found that in order for constituents to willingly follow a leader, that leader must be HONEST, COMPETENT, FORWARD-THINKING, and INSPIRING.
In the research of Kouzes and Posner, honesty shows up on the list of characteristics that constituents look for and expect in their leaders. On the surface I think we all want to work with someone that we perceive as honest. But why is that so important for the majority of people? No matter the situation or the challenge, we all want to follow someone that we believe we can trust.
That nearly 90 percent of constituents want their leaders to be honest above all else is a message that all leaders must take to heart. ~ The Leadership Challenge
None of us want to be misled. We want to be told the truth, even when that message may not be positive. And while we all want to win, we don’t want to win if that means being lied to or deceived, or if winning involves cheating or breaking the rules. Honesty is important because the honesty of our leaders is a direct reflection on us. When we willingly follow someone who is dishonest, it is a direct reflection on us. This makes it very personal.
The next characteristic most sought after by constituents is the leaders ability to see the path ahead. The leader needs to be able to have a vision for where the organization is going and the path to get there. In John Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, this is The Law of Navigation.
Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course. ~ Dr. John C Maxwell
We are not talking about a perfect picture of tomorrow. This is not about being able to predict the future. What it does mean is that the leader needs to understand the prevailing trends in the business, how those trends will impact the organization, and how the organization will navigate those challenges successfully.
Competence means the ability to guide the organization where it needs to go. We want a leader that is effective and can get things done. It doesn’t mean being a technical expert, but it does mean that the leader understands with sufficient detail what it takes to move the organization in the right direction. So for example, the leader of a software company would need to have good understanding of the software products and services provided by the organization, the trends in the industry, and the position of the organization in that industry. It does not mean that they would be an expert programmer or a computer hardware specialist.
A leader must have the ability to bring out the best in others-to enable others to act. ~ The Leadership Challenge
Leadership is ultimately about being able to lead groups. Leadership is ultimately relational, so a leader that is able to bring groups together and get things done will be seen as competent.
We all want to be inspired. The ability of a leader to bring meaning to the mundane is important. We want a leader that is enthusiastic, encouraging, and positive about the future. This is not a blind belief that everything is wonderful and there are no issues, but is instead the ability to help the team see the success that just beyond the challenges. The inspiring leader is able to help the team face the challenges and also see the success that awaits. When the team is weighed down by the challenges ahead, the last thing that they need is a leader that emphasizes all the negatives. What they want is someone that sees and acknowledges the challenges, but also shows a belief in the team to be successful. It is part cheerleader and part field general.
Taken together, these characteristics bring credibility to the leader. Without credibility, it is impossible to lead others. Without credibility, people will not chose to follow you.
What characteristics a are you looking for in your leaders?
What is important to those you lead?