About this sample
About this sample
Words: 2569 |
13 min read
Published: Aug 4, 2023
Words: 2569|Pages: 6|13 min read
Behind significant leaders there are various characteristics that lend a hand in their ability to successfully influence others. The purpose of this research was to find out which attributes most play a role in some of history’s most prolific leaders and how great leaders inspire action. These qualities and differences have been backed up with examples of successful people such as Bill Belichick, who have been known to use these characteristics in their accomplishments. As a result of scholarly articles, books, and webpages this research was able to link common qualities that famous leaders have all had in common and what separates average leaders from the best of the best. Characteristics most commonly found in the sources studied were put together to examine which abilities were most important for leaders to become better than average. In summary, it was found that there is a direct link between certain qualities and the success of leaders who have been known to exemplify them.
Keywords: leadership, qualities, success
From the beginning of human history many great leaders have walked this Earth. Each leader carries their own story and uses different traits and styles to get others to follow. In the study of effective leadership, it is important to look at some of history’s best influencers and what they do differently than others to make themselves more successful. From positions as powerful as the president of the United States, to leading a group project for a college class, there are many traits and attributes that help some leaders perform better than others. Everyone may come from their own background and have their own preferences when managing others, but there is no question that some abilities are more important than others when discussing what makes a leader more successful than others. Great leaders show empathy towards others, foster teamwork and collaboration, and operate with a clear vision in mind. They are flexible and able to manage effectively in different situations. They are able to tell others not just what to do and how to do it, but why they should do it. They are seen as inspirational and motivational figures that are trusted by their followers. Great leaders welcome difficult challenges and are able to remain calm to keep their organization headed in the right direction. While all leaders have different styles and tendencies, there are particular skills, abilities, and attributes that separate average leaders from phenomenal leaders.
Before discussing the various traits that make successful leaders, it’s important to first discuss the three major types of skills that leaders must have. According to Management: A Practical Introduction, by Angelo Kinicki and Brian Williams (2018), good managers need to work on developing three principal skills. The first is technical, the ability to perform a specific job. The second is conceptual, the ability to think analytically. The third is human, the ability to interact well with people. (p. 23)
When looking at great leaders, human skills, otherwise known as soft skills, are arguably the most important. These skills aren’t easily mastered as they require practice and experience as we grow older. When looking at what skills are found in the leaders who are above average, soft skills are typically what sets them apart.
One of the most important traits for successful leaders to have is the ability to show empathy. In a broad definition, empathy is when someone connects with others by building rapport in ways such as showing sympathy. Relationships between people that involve mutual empathetic feelings builds trust which is important when working and relying on others. Some great examples connecting empathy and great leaders come in Simon Sinek’s book, Leaders Eat Last. Sinek (2017), starts off his book by giving an example of a U.S. military hero who risked his life to save twenty-two other soldiers. By giving his self-interests up and putting others needs first, the hero showed how the military relies on empathy amongst its members (p. 3-9). The U.S. military is without question one of the best armed forces in the world because it operates on this simple characteristic. In an evolving society where people are more likely to tend to their own self-interests, it is important for great leaders to learn how to establish meaningful relationships in order to build trust.
Bill Belichick, highly regarded as the best NFL coach of all time, has used empathy to get where he is today. Winner of the most super bowls in NFL history, many wonder what separates the New England Patriots head coach from others. In an interview from 2017 between Belichick and CNBC, we quickly gain insight into what he believes is one of the most important things to consider when managing others. According to Suzy Welch (2017), in her article Bill Belichick Reveals His Five Rules of Exceptional Leadership, Belichick states the following:
There are a lot of things that affect what happens on the field that occur off the field. Players have wives and girlfriends. And they have babies. And they have personal situations. They have parents that are sick. All of it runs together. The more you and the organization can help take care of personal situations, the smoother the ship runs on the football end.
Sometimes it’s easy as leaders to become selfish and forget that others have things going on in their personal lives outside of work. Bill Belichick builds strong bonds with his players, knows how to use empathy, and he has proven that doing this leads to success in organizations.
Another important leadership quality is the ability to successfully motivate others. With this, it is not only important to understand the different types of motivation, but how they coincide with people’s needs. One of the hardest parts of being an effective leader is the ability to learn how to work with everyone’s individual needs. No two people are the same, so managers must be flexible and open to working with people in different ways. According to Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson (2013) in Management of Organizational Behavior: Leading Human Resources, leaders must be able to understand the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and which situations they work best in. Intrinsic motivation is anything that makes us feel good about ourselves such as pride. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is anything that originates from external factors such as money. While extrinsic motivation is great, intrinsic motivation is typically more successful in the long run. A good example of this is the idea of having a job that pays well, but not actually enjoying the work itself. Leaders who are able to motivate others by catering to individuals wants, needs, and goals are highly likely to effectively manage others.
Situational leadership is best exemplified by none other than New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. In Bill Belichick Vs. the NFL: The Case for the NFL’s Greatest Coach by Erik Frenz (2016), it is proven time and time again that Belichick is incredibly successful at properly using situational leadership. With a long career in the NFL, Bill has worked with different teams, different rosters, and even different rules as the game has changed. However, throughout all the changes that have occurred over the course of his career, his ability to win has remained constant. Belichick has a unique ability to adapt to the circumstances that are in his way, and that is just another reason why he is so great. In a world filled with outside threats, leaders must be able to think on the fly and adjust to different situations.
When it comes to successful leadership traits many people think of the word visionary. From a young age we are taught to set big goals, and then smaller goals to help achieve those bigger plans we have set out for ourselves. Just like we do in our daily lives, setting goals in the business world is important for success. According to Deep Patel (2017), in his article, 11 Powerful Traits of Successful Leaders, “Exceptional leaders have the ability to look into their company’s future and make clear, concrete goals that will benefit their organization. They are confident and optimistic, inspiring enthusiasm in those around them.” Writing down what you and your organization plan to accomplish is one of the first steps to accomplishing great things. In doing so, you and those you are leading are able to come together and see what is planned in the future, and how everyone can work together to achieve it. Relating back to previous examples of Bill Belichick, if he didn’t set a goal for the Patriots to win the super bowl every year, then his teams may have never worked hard enough to achieve such a high prestige. To further prove this idea, we can refer to another book about leadership. According to Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal (2017), “Vision is particularly important in times of crisis and uncertainty. When people are in pain, when they are confused and uncertain, or when they feel despair and hopelessness, they desperately seek meaning and hope” (p. 355). Whether you are running one of the top companies on wall street, the team with the most super bowls in NFL history, or even something as small as a Boy Scout troop, you are going to be faced with challenges and adversity. Leaders who establish and share a vision with those around them simply have a better chance at weathering the storm.
Another important quality for great leaders to have is experience. Just like any other position or skill it takes practice to become great at leadership. Managing others and an organization is tough, and many struggle at first. When we think of many successful people, we tend to assume that they were just born naturally gifted. If someone told you to take a step back and think about what Bill Gates and the Beatles have in common, you would probably be stumped. However, it turns out that each of these figures do in fact have something relatable. According to the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (2008), it took famous computer programmers Bill Joy, Bill Gates, and some of the top music artists of all time the Beatles and Mozart nearly 10,000 hours of practice before they reached the peak of their careers that defined their success (p. 35-68). As growing leaders, it is important to understand that it takes patience. Not only do you have to be patient with your own personal growth, but those in your organization as well. Not everything comes quickly, or easy, and great leaders are able to understand that concept.
When looking at what else separates average leaders from great leaders, it’s important to look at what exactly leaders are required to do. In the average day to day operations leaders are required to tell others what to do, and how they accomplish it. As easy as this seems, something crucial is being left out. The missing piece is the ability to not only tell others what they should do and how they should accomplish it, but the reason why they should be doing it. Throughout our lives we’ve almost all been put in situations where we have wondered why we are doing a specific task that we are asked to do. The problem with this is that when we don’t understand the significance of something, we are less likely to put forth maximum effort, and we are less likely to find what we are doing meaningful. In Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by Simon Sinek (2011), Sinek discusses what he calls the “golden circle.” In this model he has a circle with three rings. On the inside is why, in the middle is how, and in the outer ring is what (p. 37-51). Most organizations can tell their members what they do and how they accomplish it. The stellar ones are able to start with their purpose or the reason they do what they do. This helps employees find work meaningful and gives them something to strive for. Starting with why helps leaders come off as more inspirational as well as it aids in providing a vision for the organization.
It is without question that being in charge of an organization comes with great responsibility. Almost every leader is going to be in put situations where they have to make tough decisions. Great leaders are able to step up in times of need and make decisions that have the best impacts on their organization and its members. In the midst of crisis leaders are able to remain calm and use every great leadership skill they possess to take control of the situation at hand. According to The Leadership Skills Handbook: 90 Essential Skills You Need to be a Leader, by Jo Owen (2017), “Crises and Uncertainty are wonderful opportunities to make a mark” (p. 121). Many leaders are afraid of conflict and the consequences that can come from it. While it should obviously be prevented at all costs, sometimes it is unavoidable. The leaders who step up, take control, and effectively handle the situation are able to leave a positive impact on their organization. It can force members to come together and build strong relationships in order to resolve the issue. In the end, it can serve as inspiration and provide motivation for future problems that may occur.
In conclusion, there are many skills and abilities that are prevalent in successful leaders. When looking at historically famous influencers over the course of history, there are many leadership traits that we find in common. Leaders must not only know how to do the skills of the job, but how to successfully manage others. They must be able to communicate effectively, showing empathy to instill trust and create strong bonds. Great leaders must be able to motivate others and be seen as inspirational figures. They must be adaptable to different situations, and able to stay calm and collected when tough dilemmas stand in their way. Great leaders provide a clear vision for their organization and are able to teach others not only the what and how, but the why. Surely there are many other things to consider when looking at the make-up of effective leaders, but any leader who is able to master these traits is bound to leave a strong impact on those around them.
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