I have seen leaders succeed and I have seen leaders fail. When I look at both situations, it makes me want to reflect on the reason why? The ingredients for a successful leader are both simple and complex. I believe the central leadership characteristics for success are drive, selflessness, and curiosity.
Drive. If a leader is not self-motivated, it is all for naught. There must be an inner passion and determination to achieve goals that are bigger than just one person, goals that have a positive impact on people in the immediate sphere of influence and maybe the world. Drive causes the leader to rise in the morning with a new energy and vision for what he wants to accomplish today with the help of others. This leader is generally optimistic about the future.
Selflessness. A leader who thinks of others first is a servant leader. The leader is more worried about how to put others in the limelight than him or herself. This giving and caring leader wants to achieve success for the customer, the team member, the company, and the community. This leader is generally involved in ways above and beyond the everyday to do list. The selfless leader is humble. It does not mean that the individual does not want recognition, it just means that he or she wants the recognition to envelope the whole team. This leader is asking the question, “how can I remove barriers for my team so that they can take care of the customer (internal or external) in the best way possible?”
Curiosity. An often-overlooked trait in an effective leader is curiosity. In a leadership role curiosity means that the person is interested in others as human beings – What makes them tick? Who are they when I am not looking? What can I do differently and creatively to reach them and teach them? Curiosity is not sticking one’s head in the sand but looking around and observing keenly. This leader is fascinated by people and how things work together to achieve positive results.
I also believe the characteristics in leaders who often fail are anger, narcissism, and lack of trustworthiness. Sometimes, these traits are called derailers. The leader has a lot going for them – intelligent, gets things done, and stands out from the crowd. Nonetheless , even one of these traits can get in the way of longevity in a job.
Anger – You have seen leaders who come unhinged when someone makes a mistake. It is not a pretty sight. Everyone who is around is embarrassed for the leader and for the individual who is the brunt of that anger. The reaction is typically way out of proportion to the crime. The team member or small group who are the victims will either leave the organization or become so cowered that they do just enough to keep from getting fired. No one is motivated to go the extra mile by anger and the fear that comes with it. What a mess anger leaves in its trail!
Narcissism – There are many papers and articles written about narcissism. One that I read some time ago talked about the 16 different types of narcissism. Another word I have heard to describe this trait in its extreme is “gaslighting”. Gaslighting is a tactic for manipulating someone in a way that makes them question their own reality. A narcissistic leader needs to have his or her ego stroked whether it is deserved or not. This is someone who has been falsely nurtured to believe they can do no wrong. This is a leader who will probably never say “I am sorry” or “I messed up”. This leader likes to be front and center. This type of leader lacks sympathy or empathy. He or she comes across as arrogant but can be charming too. Enough about that nastiness!
Lack of Trustworthiness – I have worked for leaders who I did not trust for various reasons – they did not remember having agreement about next steps, they flip-flopped on decisions sometimes without communicating the new decision, they talked about me and others behind the back, they discussed confidential matters openly, they did not stand up for me when questioned by a higher up leader, etc. Not much fun to work for this type of leader. These non-trustworthy leaders may have hidden agendas or lack values and purpose or are just unpredictable. We want the leaders who we follow to have integrity. We want them to be transparent about who they are and what they are trying to accomplish. Trust and respect are huge in developing teamwork and a workplace where team members want to stay and be productive.
These thoughts lead us to ask, “Can a leader change?”. The answer is “It depends.”. Is the person willing to work towards being a leader who has more drive, selflessness, and curiosity? Is the person willing to do the really hard work to become more in control of their emotions, less self-centered, and more trustworthy. I do believe that some leadership skills, knowledge, and behaviors can be learned and practiced and will over time help them to evolve into a good manager and leader. It is just much easier if the person who wants to be a great leader has some of the inherent traits to begin this life-long learning journey.
To sum this up, here is an entertaining video about bad leaders vs. good leaders. Hope you enjoy! Now, go out there and be a great leader, one who others what to work with and emulate!!!