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Characteristics of Effective Leadership

I have observed small, medium, and top level leaders, and to be honest, only a few have exhibited that gene that defines quality leadership – I’m not being critical – just being honest. Sometimes, the type of decisions seen to be made by some leaders are suicidal, and to add salt to injury, the way they rigidly defend those decisions are unpardonable. To be an effective leader, you must fit into one or more of the following categories.

1. A leader is a servant: all the great leaders, dead or alive were servants to those they led. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and encouraged them to do likewise. Mahatma Gandhi lived a simple life and served his people – he was the boss who never acted like the boss – he was the least even if he was the first. These days, you see some, who say they’re leaders wait to be served, instead of serving, and I wonder their understanding of leadership.

2. A leader is the last to sit: I will illustrate leadership with parents-children relationship. If you have three and five year old children, and you go for a function, and there are limited seats, would you prefer sitting for your children to stand? A responsible parent will stand so that his children will sit. That is leadership. I noticed that in coaches, buses or trains, when there are limited seats, parents with children always jump in quickly to take seats on behalf of their children. As a leader, you’re like a parent – your seat isn’t meant for you – it’s for those you lead. As a president or prime minister of a nation, your seat isn’t yours – it’s for the people you promised to lead.  As the chief executive, your seat isn’t yours – it’s for those under you – without them, your position will be ludicrous. Remember, it’s a limited seat!

3. A leader is the last to eat: when I see an organisation go burst, and the CEO ends up with a bonus running into millions, while the ordinary employees go home to their families empty handed, I wonder the type of leaders they are. When I see a father go for an expensive suit to impress when his children’s school fees haven’t been paid, I wonder the kind of father he is. A leader must be the last to be filled – until others have eaten, he shouldn’t eat – that is what good leadership is about. Unfortunately, many so called leaders steal from the poor to feed their insatiable desires.

4. A leader is the last to step out of the sinking ship: no captain abandons the occupants of his ship when it capsizes or is sinking – that will amount to unprofessionalism. Besides professionalism, no responsible leader abandons its own to sink while he runs for safety. It is safety first, for those in your ship before you. If you do not have that mentality, you may be in a position, but in the true sense, you aren’t a leader.

5. A leader is accountable: accountability isn’t just about money – it is also about protecting the important numbers under your leadership. You aren’t protecting the numbers when, as a result of your failings, the number of employees dropped from five hundred to two hundred. You aren’t protecting the numbers, when out of selfishness, you went into a meaningless war that ended the lives of so many people. You aren’t protecting the numbers, when you wouldn’t make a sacrifice to buy the medication that should have saved the life of that child. Listen – you must be accountable in all ramifications – that is leadership.

6. A leader goes for the lost sheep: a leader always looks out for his own. When some parents go mad at a straying child, it doesn’t make them bad people – they’re only making sure that the lost sheep finds his way back home – that is, the home of wisdom and common sense. Those parents who let anything go, in the name of civilisation, aren’t leaders – leadership is as old as old – it’s got nothing to do with civilisation.

7. A  leader rewards excellence: some people in positions punish offenders but never reward excellence – some hold two sticks on both hands instead of a carrot on one – they are quick to punish and point out errors but hardly notice anyone that stands out, talk less of rewarding them. But true leaders easily observe any trace of excellence, and even notice those with the potentials, even if they haven’t started exhibiting them. Leaders are eager to reward good, and reluctant to punish bad – when they do, it’s purely for the purpose of correction.

8. A leader takes responsibilities: this point has become a cliché because it has been used, reused, and abused by so many people who don’t take responsibilities, but in spite of that, it is a very valid point – leaders actually take responsibilities. If anything goes wrong, even if they aren’t directly involved, they automatically assume the position of the culprit, inasmuch as the offender was under their leadership. Some people in positions will hastily exonerate themselves and heap the blames on the direct protagonist.

9. A leader develops people: some people in positions don’t like developing anyone under them because they feel threatened of being toppled, but they do not realise that your success package include your successors. If you made no one to become anything, you aren’t anything no matter how high your position may be. You are as good or bad as the people you develop or under-develop. Leaders develop their people – they help them acquire skills that will get them promoted in all their endeavours.

10 Leaders have hearts, but yet assertive: leaders are compassionate,  empathetic, but very assertive. Leaders feel the pains of the led – they appreciate their situations, but in spite of that, when they make quality decisions, they never allow their emotions ruin it – they know how to strike a balance between feeling and reason.

11. Leaders are flexible and ever willing to learn: I have seen certain people in leadership positions exhibit unnecessary rigidity, and end up destroying themselves because they couldn’t sense the danger in sticking to decisions they shouldn’t have made in the first place. The ability to react promptly and positively to change is a reflection of flexibility. When true leaders get it wrong, they aren’t proud to make U-turns, and apologise for getting it wrong. Again, true leaders are willing to learn new skills – it may be challenging, but they’re ever willing.

12. Leaders inspire their own: one major quality of great leadership, and which could be considered as number one is the ability of leaders to inspire their own. If I take religion as illustration, Jesus Christ was one very good example – for over two thousand years after his death, he keeps making disciples because of his power to inspire. Muhammad is another great example. In modern times, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Junior, Nelson Mandela, and very recently, Barack Obama, are typical examples.  Leaders have the power to inspire – not always through persuasive speeches, but more, by their lifestyles.

13 Leaders are visionaries: the ability to see the future, and make decisions that impact positively, the future, is visionary. If from where you stand, you see a tomorrow, and make quality decisions that will make it better, you are a visionary. Leaders are visionaries – true leaders are true visionaries. Money without vision takes you nowhere.

14. Leaders are intuitive: intuitiveness has nothing to do with logical evidence – it has nothing to do with experimental evidence. It’s a kind of knowledge or recognition that’s related to the subconscious – the ability to know, even when the five senses are not involved. For instance, if you’re conducting an interview for a number of people, something may tell you that a particular candidate, though didn’t perform well, may be the right person for the job – all physical and intellectual evidences prove otherwise, but your inner self tells you to go with the person, and on the long run, you were proven right. Leaders are intuitive, because they need it to make decisions when every other skill fails.

15. Leaders are persuasive: getting people to do things, or convincing them to support a specific decision, or whatever, if achieved with force or threat isn’t persuasion. Persuasion is when people, on their own volition, make decisions to support decisions. For people to make decisions, sometimes, they need logical convictions – logical convictions are offspring of persuasions – leaders have the ability to persuade. Persuasion may be in the form of eloquence or good attitude. Sometimes, it’s not about eloquence, but about how you manage people. If you treat people like dogs, you get the attitude of dogs, but if you think they’re humans, and treat them like one, you’ll get the most beautiful part of humanity. Leaders persuade through great speeches, and treating people like humans.

16. Leaders are workaholics: I have never seen a lazy leader – in fact, there’s none. What qualifies leadership is hard work. If you’re lazy, a failing dream will always be given an excuse for ill-performing. A leader will revamp a dying world and put it on the platform where it  becomes enviable. No true leader finds excuses for redundancy – he works so hard to make things happen. No dream is actualised by mere envisioning – it takes hard work to make it happen.

17. Leaders are strategic and tactical: strategies guide long term plans, while tactics deal with the moment. Leaders plan for now and then – they look at today and tomorrow, and in doing that, come up with tactics that will define today, and the strategies that will take care of tomorrow. It’s a shame when some people in positions of leadership lose the ship to the storm because of lack of proper preparation and planning. The ability to see the future and get ready for it is leadership. The ability to interpret what you see and make plans that will avert the dangers ahead is a great attribute in leadership.

18. Leaders give a second chance: I have seen people in power operate a no-mercy style of leadership. Once they say it, they don’t go back on their words. That’s not leadership – even God changes his mind sometimes. Humans are bound to err, and we are bound to drop our rigidity and give people a second chance. Great leaders give a second chance.

19. Leaders are not possessive: the grab-grab mentality, the selfish attitude, and the sit-tight positioning of certain people that hold leadership positions is embarrassing. They think protecting their territories with junta methodology will safeguard them, but that isn’t true. What safeguards a position is simplicity, flexibility and open-mindedness. In the first instance, it is insecurity and self esteem challenges that make people act draconian in their little chicken positions. True leaders aren’t draconian.

20. Leaders listen and ponder before making decisions: leaders pay attention to all sides and all facts, sit on what they’ve heard, and then come up with winning decisions, without the fear of offending any side. Leaders don’t jump to conclusion or dictation – even when in the position to make unilateral decisions, they still, in their own privacy, consult people with the knowledge of what they intend to do before finalising on their conclusions.







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Ken is a leadership Motivation, Strategy and Personal Development Writer, Blogger and Speaker. He writes for a number of magazines and blogs. He is also a mentor and published author of several books.

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