When asked to describe characteristics that great leaders have in common, the list is endless. And while they all make for a good read, none of them fully capture the essence of what makes a great leader.
“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” – Jack Welch
Great leaders may possess a myriad of attributes, not the least of which are intelligence, charisma and natural charm. All of these things matter. However, you can be a great leader and not be naturally charming or very intelligent. While launching and growing my company, PeoplePerHour, I’ve learned a lot about leadership. I have come to the conclusion that there are three key attributes that great leaders must possess.
“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” (Jack Welch) The ability to amass a great team, motivate and inspire them is plain useless if you don’t have a clear vision of where you need to go.
Leadership starts with seeing the future and then figuring out a feasible path to get there. It means doing the one right thing rather than doing many things right. It is about being different, not following the herd, being controversial, and seeing what others don’t see. It is having a nose for what’s coming and the eyes and ears to react before others do. Without vision, you can empower people all you would like, but you won’t get anywhere. You’ll have a following, but no direction.
Once you have a clear vision you need a following. That requires the power of influence. Whether you are in an existing leadership situation or the creator of a group, this is a very hard thing to do. In either case, the odds are against you.
A vast majority of people are resistant to change, no matter the odds. In order to fulfill any grand vision, you need to drive change. Otherwise you are just a puppet master holding the strings, waiting for the show to end. You have to learn how to influence people across the board — explain to new hires the benefit of leaving secure jobs to join you; convince investors to give you money; get customers to buy from you; influence a bank manager to give you an overdraft; get your landlord to give you an office space lease and rent-free period; and convince your significant other to put up with sleepless nights, cold sweats and no pay. Carry that burden of influence with you. If you go down, you take more people with you than yesterday.
Once you have clarified a vision and built a following, after all this work you will realize that it’s only day one. Now you have your raft and your compass. But you still need to cross the ocean. This is the final and truest test of great leadership — courage.
Intelligence and knowledge are advantages, but without courage they are wasted. Courage alone could and would get you there, albeit slower and with more pain. So, the key question is: Do you have the courage to keep going when everyone tells you to turn back; to know you’re right when everyone says you’re wrong; to stick to your instincts when people call you crazy; to carry other people’s weight when they fall; to set the tempo and beat the drum despite how tired you may be?
It is your job as a leader to keep people together when they are drifting apart and losing faith, to give them courage, but not false hope, to let go of some to save many, and to weather the storm, but not bask in the sunlight when it ends — because it never does.
Vision and influence will make you a well equipped captain. But courage is what gets you there. On the other hand, courage alone makes you a fighter without a cause. You may be good at creating lots of noise, but to paraphrase Sun Tzu’s Art of War, that’s just “the noise before defeat.”
This article has been edited and condensed.
Xenios Thrasyvoulou is the founder of PeoplePerHour.com and DeskDonkie. He is also a passionate PPHer, avid blogger, lover of art, design, and all things quirky and minimal but words in particular; he’s also a fan of the uncommon and unconventional and a vintage fanatic who specializes in poking the fire and stirring things up, and suffers from an overly curious mind. Connect with @xenios on Twitter.
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