What is a leader?
“Leaders help themselves and others to do the right things. They set the direction, build an inspiring vision, and create something new” (MindTools, 2018). This clearly indicates that leaders are those who take the lead and set the directions for others to follow. I remember in my leadership and management lecture where we debated whether leaders are born or made; now this is very interesting because many will say leaders are born and the ability to lead is innate. The conclusion we came to was that even though some are natural born leaders, leaders are made, anyone can be a leader through developing and learning the skills needed to excel and lead others. This leads to the question how is a good leader characterised? What are the attributes that make a good leader and how can we learn to see or develop these characteristics. Let’s discuss five characteristics that make a good leader:
A good leader is flexible, the ability to understand that things will not always go as planned and ensuring that there is room for change. Being flexible also means that a leader can adjust their thinking and move with the currents. This should not be mistaken with indecisiveness, flexibility denotes the idea that one is able to find and adapt to conditions as required. So in effect leaders are ready to face any challenges and can use their initiative and ideas to work around any situation. A good leader will communicate clearly to those they lead and help them understand their vision and objective for the team.
- Sets the direction
A good leader is one who is able to set the direction for the team, leadership requires that you first understand and know where you are going. It is no use to the team if their leader is not able to lead them. A leader who lacks direction is a liability, “it’s like the blind leading the blind”, a leader should already have their route mapped out ready to share and direct the team. This also means that the leader is prepared, should they lose their way along their path to their goal, the leader has a plan b ready to redirect and help the team navigate back to their original plan.
A good leader is courageous; Nelson Mandela defined it perfectly when he said “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”. A good leader will feel the fear, whether it’s standing up for what he believes or taking a risk for the team, a good leader will boldly stand by his values even if it proves to be unpopular to those around. This is what makes a good leader stand out as they are bold in their approach and seeks no approval but makes the bold decisions when required.
A good leader is empathetic; this is the “ability to walk in the shoes of another”. This may not always be the easiest thing to do but good leaders strive to show empathy to those they manage. This means that a leader will strive to understand the limitations of those in the team and support them by tailoring their approach to help others. This tie in with being flexible as a good leader does not only think of self but understand us in their approach. A team is made up of different strengths and weakness, a good leader takes this reality into consideration and seeks to motivate and support those in the team.
- Responsible and accountable
A good leader is responsible, this is the ability to respond in any situation, and a leader does not leave their responsibilities to the team but takes full responsibility for the role as the leader. This also means that they accept accountability for both the success and failure of the team. A good leader understands their responsibility and obligation to the team never places the blame on others should a project fail.
In conclusion we see that a good leader is flexible, they are able to communicate and adapt to change where necessary. They set direction for the team and take the lead and are prepared to reroute the team where possible. They are courageous not afraid to speak up and make bold decisions contrary to what is popular. They are empathetic as they respect the strengths and weakness of their teams. They seek to “understand and then be understood”. They are responsible and accountable, by accepting responsibility for the team and are accountable for what may go wrong. This gains them the respect and trust of the teams they lead.
Written by Shereena Badu
References: Mindtool.com (2018) What is leadership. Available from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_41.htm. [Accessed 22nd January 2018]