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As we climb the corporate ladder, we soon realize that the managers we encounter along the way differ greatly in competency. Some are a joy to report to and inspire us to give our all, and others may be so difficult to deal with that quitting seems our only option. Most, however, fall somewhere in between.

So, why do some leaders inspire commitment and productivity, while others create misery and chaos? We have all seen the news headlines when leadership goes very wrong. What is it, exactly, that makes the difference? This has been a topic of opinion and research for centuries.

Why strong leaders are important:

Strong leadership is vital to the success of any organization. It helps ensure a healthy, equitable, and inclusive culture, with a diverse, engaged, and content workforce that mirrors the customer base it serves. Smart organizations know that such a workforce is every bit as important to its competitiveness and profitability as the quality of its products or services. Previously, employers and their HR departments looked for competency-based leadership qualities and character was either ignored or underestimated. Today, we know more about the significant role of personality in determining great leaders, and specifically how certain personality traits can mean the difference between a good leader and a great one.

While personality traits are formed prior to birth, it is possible to develop our more desirable traits and learn to suppress those that can impede our success. Just like working on a particular muscle set in the gym, we can work on specific aspects of our personality and become better leaders with practice. To do this, we must first take a brutally honest look within ourselves to assess our strengths and weaknesses. A 360-degree assessment from those we work with would be particularly helpful here.

Over the years, certain traits or qualities have become associated with great leaders, let’s review some of the key ones here.

*Key traits of a strong leader:

Drive: It would be hard to be an effective leader without drive. Leaders must be passionate and results- orientated, tenacious, self-motivated, and determined to succeed.

Courage: It may not be a literal battlefield at the office, but some days may feel like it. Making an unpopular decision, challenging a long-held way of doing things, or going against the group opinion, can require great courage. It’s important to understand that courage is not the absence of fear; it’s about overcoming the fear to do what needs to be done.

Accountability: Taking ownership and accepting the consequences of one’s decisions and actions is an integral part of strong leadership. Blame-shifting, finger-pointing and other such pettiness, are not qualities associated with a strong leader. One cannot build trust among one’s reports or peers without accountability.

Collaboration: Strong leaders understand that more can be achieved by collaborating than by working in silos or creating fiefdoms. Co-operating, sharing knowledge, and creating success together comes naturally to the collaborative leader. This trait fosters trust and collegiality, both of which are contagious.

Humility: This entails more than being modest. It includes being self-aware, respectful of others, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Humility requires us to accept that we can never know it all, and that we must be continually curious and never stop learning.

Humanity: Strong leaders embody sensitivity, empathy and compassion. They are considerate of others and do not think only of themselves. They understand that humanity is not a sign of weakness. History has provided many examples of what can happen when a leader lacks this critical trait.

Integrity: Honest, consistent, authentic, transparent – all vital characteristics of a great leader, and all traits that inspire, trust, loyalty, and respect.

Fairness: this entails demonstrating fairness, being even-handed, striving for equity, and ensuring justice where it is needed.

Self-Controlled: leaders must be able to control how they express their emotions, particularly negative ones. They must exhibit discipline, patience, maturity, and calm, particularly when those around them are doing the opposite. They are role models for how to behave in challenging times.

Judgement: Great leaders can be relied upon to show sound judgement, even under duress. This trait is the linchpin that connects to, and draws upon their other traits, as the circumstances dictate. Solid judgement enables a leader to quickly grasp complex situations, adapt to the latest information, analyze and make decisions based on facts as well as intuition. Without sound judgement, none of the other traits can be fully leveraged.

Going from good to great

Many organizations pride themselves in having good leaders, but how many have great leaders? Many good leaders are perfectly capable of becoming great leaders, but what is their motivation? They have already risen to the top, so surely, they are “good enough”.  As Jim Collins once said, “Good is the enemy of great,” yet “great” does not have to be reserved for those who are famously great at what they do. In today’s digital world, where change and competition are relentless, and new challenges with far-reaching implications such as artificial intelligence abound, we need great leaders! It’s up to organizations and the leaders themselves to not be satisfied with good and strive for great. While great is never easy, it can be your reality if you want it badly enough and are willing to put the effort in.

Would you like to go from good to great? We can help you! Contact Forge Coaching and Consulting at 905.703.0003 or info@forgecoachingandconsulting.com.

*These character dimensions were identified and defined by J.Gandz, M.Crossan, G. Seijts, and M. Reno. “Leadership Character and Corporate Governance”. Director 167, May-June 2013. Reprinted in Ivey Business Journal (online) http://iveybusinessjournal.com/topics/leadership/leadership-character-and-corporate-governance, accessed March 17, 2014.

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