Leadership — 101 qualities that make a great leader

TRUE leadership is cemented by special qualities. In these times of make-believe television celebrities, it’s hard to separate between leadership and fame. This has even crept into the clergy, where, instead of seeing servant leadership, we, at times, see pulpit pop stars. True leadership has to be trusted.


A great leader has a special aura about him. It’s not only people that are following, but special attributes. These attributes are subsequently followed by specific results. Below are precise and profound points to learn.

Integrity and character

Good character is like glue that sticks together all pieces in the puzzle of leadership. Talent, charisma and gifts can take a person up the ladder, but it’s good character that keeps a leader at the top.

Good leaders are trustworthy, reliable and ethical. Integrity means they have self-knowledge of their strength and weaknesses. Because they know their weakness, they seek right people to plug that.

A great leader has people at heart

Good leaders should care about the employees as to achieve common goals. This is the difference between leadership and management.

People are led and equipment or systems are managed. A great leader cares about the people he leads. This makes people buy into his vision without being coerced.

The greatest resource in any institution is its people. I have seen some leaders pushing or manhandling their subordinates. A great leader grows other leaders. By so doing, results are multiplied. The leader has to grow personally. Where there is no growth, there is no life.

Personal growth and people growth lead to institutional growth. At times a leader does not have to force people to do a task, but people that are led should feel obligated to produce even in the absence of a leader. A great leader makes their vision clear to others and leads people to buy into his vision.

A great leader sees into the future

Good leaders are forward-looking and focus on the bigger picture. For example, in business, a leader should tell where they will be in five or 10 years.

I have always said, as a leader, go into the future, and capture those great pictures, and then come back into the “now” and act to bring that to fruition.

A leader has to have a prophetic insight and begins to work towards that. This makes the leader be in a better position to adjust priorities and plan for the future.

A leader should anticipate danger before his subordinates and should be able to create capacity in others and himself to handle a great opportunity when it comes along.

Openness and accepting criticism

As a leader, are you willing to listen? Are you approachable? Or even accessible? Some leaders are too “big” to be told anything. I have had the privilege of working with leaders from different backgrounds and most of them confess that it is always hard to receive feedback from employees.

In some instances, leaders have suppressed positive feedback by being bossy. The International Business Driving Licence (IBDL) says: “Great leaders are approachable, accessible, and always willing to listen.”

Often managers, and especially entrepreneurs, think that they arrived at their position because of their talent, skills, and abilities. They believe they have the answers, more than anyone else, which is a formula for disaster.

The more leaders listen to others, are willing to accept constructive criticism and act on it, and keep the communication lines open, the more effective she or he will be in accomplishing the firm’s goals.

A great leader works on relationships to produce more results

A good leader has personal achievements and a great leader has team achievements. John C Maxwell in his book The Maxwell Daily Readers (2007:38), says: “Friendship is the foundation of influence: President Abraham Lincoln said, ‘If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend’. Good relationships make influence possible, and friendship is the most positive relationship you can develop on the job with your co-workers.”

As an employee, there is nothing so degrading and demoralising as being reprimanded in public or in the presence of your colleagues. But when you have built great relationships, even when people have done wrong, they will understand.

In this case, you are not a boss, but a colleague, who seeks the good of an organisation. Hearty genuine public praise is what all people want. It lights my day! It sets my spirit on cloud nine!

A great leader does not stop with the current, but is ready for change

Past achievements are at times the greatest enemy of future achievements. Most people stop and bask in their previous victories forgetting that the future has more to offer than we have seen.

As we rest on our laurels, we sometimes get too intoxicated by success to forget that change is on its way. It’s typical with humanity not to accept change.

It’s after you ask what happened to Motorola or Nokia, when you will appreciate the power of change. These companies did nothing wrong, but change caught them off-guard.

Leaders should always be making new adjustments, improvements and look out for possible changes.

A great leader is measured by people following

A Chinese proverb says: “He who sayeth he’s leading yet hath no one behind him is only taking a walk.”

That’s the frank truth that most people, especially managers, fail to acknowledge. Take stock of that and start to lead!

A great leader makes decisions

Leaders make crucial decisions for a company. A leader has to consult and choose from alternatives. When a leader fails to make a decision, an organisation might lose important opportunities. Warren Bennis, in his book Why Leaders Can’t Lead (1989:110), says: “The world doesn’t need any more operators or mechanics, but it desperately needs explorers and inventors — people willing to take on the world and its problems by living up to their own visions of excellence and using their talents to the full.”

Parting Point: A great leader is a person who acknowledges that leadership is not a one-day event, but a daily process of learning and unlearning. It is also the ability to influence people to work towards a common goal.

Jonah Nyoni is an author, success coach and leadership trainer. He is the author of Inspiration for Success and Success Within Reach.

Email: jonah@classicmail.co.za. Twitter @jonahnyoni

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