Six defining characteristics of leadership
Leadership challenge, leadership ballots, leadership quality, leadership failure and so it goes on…The media has been awash for months with reporting and comment on the leadership of our nations and political parties. But what is it that is being assessed? How much can we tell about a person’s ability to lead from their hairstyle, fashion sense, soundbites and friendships?
Through my academic study of leadership and my executive coaching practice, I’ve determined six principles through which to assess and determine leadership capability.
We expect our leaders to exemplify integrity in their communication and actions. We seek consistency from them in order to be able to trust them. This characteristic should be obvious for anyone aspiring to leadership, but it is striking how often our leaders fail to grasp this.
Creating a vision
We want to know what our leaders stand for, but this has to be more than a slogan such as ‘Make America Great Again’ or the ‘Big Society’. More compelling was Theresa May’s first speech as Prime Minister where she laid out the guiding principles for her premiership. We knew from this what to expect from her leadership and to judge how well it meets our own interests and values.
This is not to be confused with rushed (and sometimes rash) decision-making. We want our leaders to take considered and wise decisions and we understand that this might need some time. But we can’t wait for ever and nor can we respect rapid changes of mind. Jeremy Corbyn’s prevarication is a key reason why his own MPs have no confidence in him.
Listening as well as talking
We expect our leaders to have something to say whenever the occasion demands it and we also expect them to listen to our needs and respond to them. It is a fine balancing act for a leader to get right, but we are witnessing, across society, the rising impact of those who have been feeling unheard.
Following the UK referendum result, our erstwhile leaders (on both sides) collectively disappeared. It was therefore noticeable when the sole political leader, Nicola Sturgeon, called a cabinet meeting and spoke publicly about what she and her party would do, giving the Scottish population a sense that she, alone, had some answers.
Creating conditions where others thrive
It is impossible to do everything as a leader, despite a common thought that no-one else can do stuff as well as you can. Effective leaders learn quickly to delegate and get the best out of those around them, by allowing them to play to their strengths, leaving the leader to focus on what he or she does best.
If you would like to develop your own, or your organisation’s, leadership capability, please get in touch.