As executive recruiters, we regularly work with professionals seeking or are in leadership positions in companies from start-ups to Fortune 500s. Over the years, we’ve met and recruited many good leaders, several of which rise to the “great” level.
What distinguishes a person as a leader often is subjective; if you ask ten people, you’ll get ten different responses that reflect some combination of vision, character, and trust. One thing that’s certain, though: it’s not the title that makes the person. Being a leader is more than just a culmination of experience, opportunity, and time.
For some, an aptitude for leadership may come naturally. Fortunately for the rest of us, much of what makes a good leader is learned. And it’s never too early – or too late – to cultivate the skills and attributes that ultimately will define a leadership legacy.
What kind of legacy do you want to create?
To inspire your thinking, we share six attributes of what we consider to be exceptional leaders. These are the qualities common to the men and women who have made positive and lasting impacts on the communities they’ve served.
- Listen Carefully It’s remarkable what you can learn about people if you listen to what they are saying. Knowing how the people on your team “tick” – their interests, likes, dislikes, and what inspires them – can help you more effectively match people to the tasks and situations, they’ll excel at and enjoy. The results? Productive and happy team members.
- Never Stop Learning Along with listening, a thirst for learning throughout your career can make you better at what you do. Continuing to seek opportunities to learn and experience “life” can make you a more rounded leader, enabling you to gain added perspective on different aspects of the business and relate to others personally regarding their interests and hobbies.
- Build Strong Teams Many people, particularly those in leadership roles, think they have to have all the answers. However, good leaders have a good handle on their strengths and weaknesses and surround themselves with teams that shore up their gaps in knowledge and skill. Rather than being intimidated by people who are stronger in certain areas, these leaders embrace it, and in the process, build strong and loyal teams that want to follow their leader anywhere – even to a new company.
- Motivate Others Good leaders who “walk the walk” usually motivate their team members to go beyond their limits to accomplish great things. As John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” How do they do it? It comes down to building your team’s trust. When a leader exhibits traits like confidence, honesty, vision, and consistency, others follow.
- Give Credit Where Credit Is Due Leaders can’t do everything independently. As your team works toward the collective goals you’ve set, it’s essential to keep tabs on how they’re doing under the pressures of deadlines and challenges. Acknowledge their hard work and give them credit for it, particularly when you get the praise.
- Help Others Good leaders have a passion for what they’re doing. They also are compassionate when it comes to their teams. They can relate emotionally to tricky situations and solve sensitive issues with kindness and compassion. They also help their team members grow, setting clear career paths, guiding and supporting them in their journeys.
As you reflect on these attributes, consider ways you can aspire to more as you engage, motivate, and mentor your team – and ultimately reshape your legacy, both as a leader and human.