We recently collaborated with Professor Simon Robinson, an expert in leadership and ethics, on a study of the 100 greatest leaders to try and pin down the qualities which make a true leader.
The leaders we used as a study include political leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama, entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson and innovators like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Taking leaders from such a diverse range of backgrounds helped us to pull out the essential qualities these people have.
While we also looked at their background, age and other attributes (which unsurprisingly showed the average leader was a middle-aged white male) what ultimately makes someone a great leader is their character and their motivation. Below are the five key qualities of a great leader.
- Vision. Having vision doesn’t necessarily mean being a creative person, it could simply be about solving a problem and having the patience to see it out. It could also mean being innovative and forward thinking; having an idea and really believing it can come to fruition.
- Creating direction and inspiring others. Tied to vision is the ability to create the direction to achieve that vision and inspiring others to help you achieve it.
- Communication skills. Being a strong leader is realising that it’s not only about you. Many others will prove vital to your success and your ability to communicate with and inspire these people is key. Whether it’s persuading an investor or encouraging someone more junior, if you can communicate your vision you’ll have a far easier route to success.
- Drive and commitment. Do you border on obsessive in your hobbies and pursuits? Will you spend hours practicing something that you’re determined to master? Have you opted out of social activities to focus on your studies or hobbies? These are the type of behaviours exhibited by someone truly driven and committed.
- Adaptability. How flustered do you get if something doesn’t go to plan? Are you able to quickly find a solution? Being adaptable is what helps leaders to reach the top. If every leader was thrown by some of their early challenges, they’d be demotivated and give up long before they achieved their goals. Being adaptable means being confident, flexible and an excellent problem solver.
It’s worth remembering that many people might have some of these qualities or the potential to gain them if they apply themselves. There are elements of leadership which can be unlocked through hard work and training. Nobody is born a leader, but we are all born with the potential to become one.