BY DAVID PICH
Most leaders will agree that inspiration is the hallmark of successful leadership. Indeed the words ‘leadership’ and ‘inspiration’ are often used in tandem when we think of leaders who inspire us.
However, the problem with this is that it’s often more difficult for us to define what lies at the heart of inspirational leadership. We tend to know that ‘something’ in a leader makes her what she is, but we struggle to put our finger on exactly what it is.
One remedy to this is to focus on the attributes of successful leadership. Last year we asked the almost 12,000 Members of the Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia and New Zealand (IML ANZ) what they believe are the top attributes that lie at the heart of great leadership. We then picked the top seven and wrote a book about them. These attributes provide a pretty decent launching pad for a discussion about exactly what makes a great leader. Here they are:
Respect in some ways can feel like a tainted concept. Not long ago, it was based more on your position in the hierarchy than on what you did for the organisation. Of course, times have changed and with that change has come to a far broader definition of – and demand for – respect in the workplace.
Today’s workplace reflects today’s society. Therefore, respect is increasingly becoming a key ingredient in organisational performance and leadership success. Today’s managers and leaders must master how to work inclusively alongside colleagues from different countries, continents and cultures.
You can’t be inspired by someone you don’t trust. In fact, integrity was viewed by the Institute’s Membership as the single most important attribute at the heart of effective leadership. Not surprising given the leadership integrity crises we currently witness.
Good leadership has become synonymous with the idea of integrity. It’s an all-important leadership attribute, one that today’s managers and leaders must give considerable food for thought if they want to lead well.
The core of IML ANZ’s mission and purpose is to facilitate the transition from the chaos of the accidental manager to the impact of the intentional leader. This type of leader views their leadership skills development in the same way as their technical development.
One leadership skill that all leaders must develop is emotional intelligence. It’s the ability to empathise with others and to adjust our own emotions and feelings to suit and adapt to a variety of situations.
This attribute separates accidental managers from intentional leaders. It allows leaders to foster healthy and positive relationships and promote meaningful employee engagement.
Ability to Inspire
I once interviewed a leader who has chaired many boards and committees in Australia and abroad. She believes that the one outstanding characteristic of exceptional leaders is the ability to inspire. I often think that this is an overlooked attribute despite us living in a time where inspirational quotes are a dime a dozen.
In today’s workplace, employees seek a lot more out of their roles than just a paycheck – they want to be part of something worthwhile. Leaders must now energise their employees, foster engagement and inspire.
I admit that I find authenticity quite a problematic attribute. After all, doesn’t sound leadership require the leader to be more than authentic?
During my time working for CanTeen, I learned from management and leadership consultant, Allison Keogh, the immense value that comes from seeking and receiving feedback and changing as a result of it.
This taught me that authenticity is more than being yourself. Rather, it sits at the very heart of the journey of self-discovery and change. It’s about being real – and the reality is that no one is immune from the need to improve.
Over the last decade or so, self-awareness has made its way from the lecture halls of university psychology departments to centre stage in HR departments as a leading approach to culture transformation.
Leaders today are expected to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s more than that. Successful leaders are expected to be open to the personal change process. Knowing yourself isn’t enough – striving to better yourself is what differentiates great leadership from good leadership.
By definition leaders are decision-makers, but there is something a little different about modern-day leadership that has seen decisiveness become a vital leadership attribute. It is the sheer amount of data that today’s leaders face and the speed that this data is available. These factors make leadership decision-making so much more critical to businesses, teams and individual managers and leaders.
Leaders must choose to actively take ownership of their leadership journey. At the Institute, we call this ‘leading with intent’. It’s about learning to weigh up options and deciding which is the right one for you as a leader and for your team and business.
While this list was never meant to be exhaustive, it does provide us with a starting point when we think about our own leadership style and our leadership legacy.
Given that the ability to reflect is the beating heart of successful leadership, I challenge you as a leader to ask yourself how you rate against the seven attributes of very successful leaders.