by Shawn Parr
Great leaders inspire, and by their very presence, create confidence and the belief that anything is possible — no matter the prevailing conditions. Whether you lead a nation, a company, a sports team or any other group of people, the qualities, characteristics and skills required to lead effectively are very similar. So as you look at where you are on the ladder of leadership — at the top, in the middle or just putting one foot on the rungs — here are the basic skills required to live the definition of a leader.
Great leaders cast a compelling vision for the change they expect to see in the world and for the future. They lay out a clear purpose for the organization and then set the context for the business with a clear and compelling strategy. Great leaders help to nurture the individual and institutional belief that anything is possible, and they effectively harness the collective capability and skills of the group to achieve results.
Respect, honesty and accountability are the positive ingredients for building a culture of trust. Fear, caution and self-preservation are just a few symptoms of organizational dysfunction that fester and slowly undermine the full potential of an organization when trust is absent. Leaders must operate with the highest degree of integrity, authenticity and consistency to model behaviors that inspire and guide their teams. This only happens when a leader’s actions and decisions are guided by a clear set of actionable values that the entire organization can operate within.
“Purpose affirms trust, trust affirms purpose, and together they forge individuals into a working team,”according to General Stanley McChrystal who is best known for his command of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the mid 2000s. Great leaders believe in the value of every individual on their team, understanding what motivates each and guiding them to be their individual best. A leader understands the challenge of competition and knows that winning is paramount. The two keys to a team operating at a maximum level is having accountability for the mission and collaboratively working to exceed expectations. According to McChrystal, “The temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organization, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing. A gardening approach to leadership is anything but passive. The leader acts as an ‘Eyes-On, Hands-Off’ enabler who creates and maintains an ecosystem in which the organization operates.”
Great leaders are part coach, part communicator and part motivator, always in service of the team they lead. It’s never about them, but rather, it’s about the people they serve. Great leaders are empathetic and highly in tune with the needs of their teams and the environments in which they are operating. They work in service of their team to solve problems, providing the needed resources and the environment where people can thrive and do their best work. Great leaders demonstrate a genuine concern for the people in their care (employees, consumers and shareholders), while instilling a sense that anything is possible for both the individual and the broader enterprise they lead.
Leaders must be able to inspire, challenge and engage people to believe that they can define and achieve their potential. Leaders are great listeners who don’t feel like they need to have all of the answers, nor have all of the plays figured out. They know how to ask the right questions and when to challenge their teams to think through solutions to the answers.
We should demand nothing less than exceptional from our leaders — whether it be from leaders of companies or countries. To lead is a privilege, not a right. We should expect their best each and every day, because our lives are connected to it.