According to the dictionary a leader is a person who guides or directs a group. But simply being put in a position of leadership does not make one someone worth following.

So what is true leadership?

Let’s take a look at some of the key characteristics of leadership as defined by some authorities on the subject.

1. Strong Leaders are Trustworthy

“Trust is the essence of leadership.” ~Colin Powell

Perhaps trust is the most important quality of a strong leader. If people don’t trust you, you will never get the results you want. One can attempt to lead people simply because of their appointed position–but, without trust, one simply won’t have much influence over others.  People willingly follow those they trust.

2. The Best Leaders Are Always Seeking Improvement.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”  ~  Jack Welch

The best leaders are continually seek to improve themselves and the team the lead.  They are not afraid to help the people the lead to succeed and even surpass the leader.

3. Great Leaders Inspire Others To Take Action.

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Leaders inspire others to reach for the best within themselves, to raise the bar, and to seek to continual improvement.

4. True Leaders Expand Other Peoples Vision

“Leadership is not magnetic personality, that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not “making friends and influencing people”, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” ~ Peter F. Drucker

Leaders are able to help people see their own limiting beliefs.  They help them to realize that they can attain more than they thought they could.  They expand others vision.

5. Effective Leaders Are Proactive

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”  ~ Stephen R. Covey

Effective leaders don’t wait for problems to show up. They look for possible problems and work to solve them before they become an issue.  When problems do arise they quickly work out a plan to solve the problem, then work to carry out the necessary tasks to eliminate the problem all together.

6. Effective Leaders Elevate Others

“The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I’. And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say ‘I’. They don’t think ‘I’. They think ‘we’; they think ‘team’. They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but ‘we’ gets the credit…. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.” ~ Peter Drucker

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” ~ Lao Tzu

Effective leaders don’t seek to elevate their own worth. Instead they seek to elevate the team they lead. He or she doesn’t take credit for the actions of his or her team members.

7. Capable Leaders Are Able to See The Big Picture And the Steps To Get There.

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion.” –Theodore Hesburgh, President of the University of Notre Dame’

Capable leaders can think analytically, but are able to share a vision of success with everyone. True leaders see things differently, and they speak differently.

8.  Strong Leaders Are Confident.

“Who has confidence in himself will gain the confidence of others.” ~ Leib Lazarow

No one wants to follow someone who doesn’t know what they are doing.   A manager can have great skills and knowledge but if the team he leads doesn’t have confidence in him, his abilities, or his knowledge everything he says will be discounted.

9. Great Leaders Have Great Communicate Skills

“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” ~ General Colin Powell

Great leaders explain things well.  Their communication skills allow people to really rally around an idea.  They allow people to get a firm grasp of what needs to be done and why.

10. A Great Leader is A Resource Not The Solution

“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.” ~ John Buchan

Great leaders do not seek to solve problems for other people, but seeks to help the people solve their own problems. They seek to be a resource and not the solution.

11.  True Leaders Use Future Forward Thinking

“Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” ~ Harry Truman

True leaders look to the future and seek to use all their resources to predict what actions are needed to reach certain goals, avoid problems, and keep a project on task. 

12. A Good Leader is Also a Good Follower

“You cannot be a leader, and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow, too.” ~Sam Rayburn

“He that cannot obey, cannot command.”  ~ Benjamin Franklin

Good leaders know that it is important to edify the authority and abilities of others.  They are not afraid to stay in the shadows and get done what needs to be done.

13. Great Leaders Master Leadership Over Themselves

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” ~  Vince Lombardi

“Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself.” ~ Thomas J. Watson, SR.

Great leaders go with gusto towards their dream. They are the ones who are working out, or improving themselves, while others sit and watch TV.  They set goals.  They work to achieve them. They learn to master themselves.

14. Good Leaders Uses the Human Touch and  They Lead With Their Heart

“Leadership is not so much about technique and methods as it is about opening the heart. Leadership is about inspiration—of oneself and of others. Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. It is an attitude, not a routine.” ~ Lance Secretan

Good leaders really care about the people they serve and that is apparent in everything they do.  They don’t believe in rules and routines that fail to take into account the unique situations of the people they lead.  They work to create an environment that works. 

Ask yourself this…

  • Why would anyone want to follow you?
  • What can you do to become a more effective leader?
  • What characteristics do you need to cultivate to improve your leadership skills?

What traits do you believe a good strong leader usually has? What good, or bad, experiences have you had with people in positions of leadership. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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