What is a leader? A quick Google search brings up pages and pages of quotes, editorials, books and more, all attempting to answer this deceptively simple question, suggesting there’s more to it than meets the eye.
“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal,” opined entrepreneur, author and speaker Kevin Kruse in a piece for Forbes. He broke down the key elements of his definition, noting that leadership stems not from authority or power but social influence, requires the involvement of others – although not necessarily “direct reports” – and includes an end goal.
According to Kruse, leadership is not:
1) Synonymous with management
“Managers need to plan, measure, monitor, coordinate, solve, hire, fire and so many other things,” Kruse wrote. “Typically, managers manage things. Leaders lead people.”
2) Restricted to people with certain personality traits
“We often think of icons from history like General Patton or President Lincoln, but leadership isn’t an adjective,” Kruse pointed out. “We don’t need extroverted charismatic traits to practice leadership.”
3) Related to seniority or title
“Leadership doesn’t automatically happen when you reach a certain pay grade,” Kruse asserted. “Hopefully you find it there, but there are no guarantees. … You don’t need a title to lead.”
As Kruse noted in the second point, there is no hard and fast list of qualities that leaders need to be successful, as these vary depending on a range of factors including work environment and team makeup.
That being said, CareerBuilder collated several leadership professionals’ ideas about what makes a good leader:
– Honesty, focus, passion, respect, persuasiveness (Rachael Fisher-Layne, vice president of media relations at PR agency JCPR)
– Confidence, clarity, care (Darcy Eikenberg, leadership and workplace coach, Red Cape Revolution)
– Integrity, compassion, shared vision and actions, engagement, celebration (Tom Armour, co-founder of recruitment firm High Return Selection)
– Humility, empowerment, collaboration, communication, fearlessness (Mike Sprouse, CMO of Epic Media Group and author of “The Greatness Gap”)
– Genuineness, self-awareness, ability to leverage team strengths, ability to transition to new roles, supportiveness (Nancy Clark, author of “18 Holes for Leadership”)
Although there are some common themes that can be drawn from the above answers, each professional’s opinion is different – and chances are that asking a larger pool of people will result in as many unique answers as there are respondents.
Don’t underestimate innovation and tenacity
In a separate piece for Forbes, leadership development expert and CEO of the Iclif Leadership & Governance Centre Rajeev Peshawaria stated that great leaders are visionaries who can imagine a better future and have the tenacity to work toward this end even when things don’t seem to be turning out in their favor.
“Gandhi and Mandela in the political/social arena, and Howard Schultz, Steve Jobs, Jack Ma and many others in the business arena were considered great leaders not because of their position, authority, appearance, personality, management techniques or heredity, but because they created better futures for people around them. And no matter how tough the going got, they never gave up,” he wrote.
Peshawaria also warned against an overreliance on listening to “followers,” noting that while employee engagement surveys and similar initiatives are an important piece of the puzzle in terms of running a successful company, they don’t make up the whole picture.
“If you ask employees what more they want from their bosses, the average person wants more compassion, understanding, fairness, etc.,” he pointed out. “While there is nothing wrong with this list of attributes, few followers identify/emphasize the real leadership mission – creating a better future. … Before focusing on employees, the leader must dream up the better future he or she wants to create.”
Ultimately, Peshawaria argued, asking what people want in their leaders is unlikely to result in innovation “because, in a sense, people don’t know what they don’t know. Leadership is about stepping into the unknown, and creating conditions that don’t yet exist. Leaders envision a better future for their people that they (the people) don’t often initially recognize or understand.”
The bottom line
So, what does this mean for companies about to engage in executive search and recruitment? Obviously, a potential executive candidate eager to join the C-suite needs to have a strong skill set and background in his or her area of expertise and be well-versed in the issues and trends associated with the position, but management recruiters also need to look for other leadership attributes, such as innovative thinking and tenacity. Some of the traits that recruiters look for may vary according to the needs of the individual organization and its workforce, but at the end of the day, executives primarily need to be able to focus on end goals and inspire the people they oversee in order to be effective leaders.
About Caldwell Partners
Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 40 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America and in London, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.