How do you recognize leadership qualities?

We have nowadays available a vast literature in the field of organizational culture and leadership and we probably have all come across some generic lists of attributes of the ideal leaders, which we would like to see in the management of the organizations and teams in our field of work. 

Leaders have to be visionary, competent, honest, courageous, enthusiastic, innovative, altruistic, emotionally intelligent, self-aware, always make the right decisions, set a personal example and inspire others. When we see endless lists of qualities, we wonder how many of us meet the criteria for a true leader, recognized and respected by all. Moreover, falling prey to the false leader-manager dichotomies, we wonder if we can be leaders without having management positions or if only because we have managerial functions we can automatically consider ourselves as leaders. 

In fact, in order to be successful and to transform his or her vision into reality, every potential leader must be compatible with his organization or team, as regards both competence and values, and must know and apply at least the basic notions of management. Also, every manager must have a least some qualities, from those usually associated with leadership, in order to achieve objectives and be effective. It is thus more appropriate to regard the attributes necessary for those in managerial roles as belonging to a continuous spectrum that contains both the qualities associated traditionally with leaders and those reserved for the managers

How do we know if a person has what it takes to lead a team or an organization to success? Normally, in technical industries and technological companies, any professional starts from the bottom of an organization, from the execution level, demonstrates his/her skills, gains experience, goes through several levels of hierarchy, may be put in charge to coordinate a team first, and if successful, he or she can aspire to gradually lead more projects, a department or even an entire organization. 

In the following, I give some examples of professional achievements that show that a person has unquestionable leadership qualities, demonstrated in practice.

We know a leader when we see one and usually it is because he or she has:

  1. Set a vision, clear goals and strategies for developing the organization / team, has been personally involved in their implementation and made a positive change by implementing them.
  2. Made a concrete contribution, on his/her own initiative, to the improvement of the processes or infrastructure of the organization (for example, has improved the working processes, the specific installations and / or activities, the training of the staff, the teamwork, etc.); in some cases, extraordinary leaders have eventually managed to build of transform entire organizations that are now recognized as models of success.
  3. Identified, on his/her own initiative, obstacles or problems that adversely affected the performance of the organization / team and managed to find and implement solutions to remove them or reduce their impact.
  4. Actively sought, identified and promoted, on his/her own initiative, concrete measures to improve processes and infrastructure, in order to align with the best practices in the industry, and these measures have been adopted and implemented in the organization with positive results.
  5. The other members of the organization / team come, on their own initiative, to ask for his/her opinion on various professional issues and listen to his/her advice, because of his/her experience and knowledge, not because of the position and formal authority the person holds. A leader is perceived as a role model for the other members of the organization / team, from professional and ethical point of view.
  6. Demonstrated the courage to ask difficult questions and answer difficult questions and the willingness to take on complex challenges and the capability to resolve them.
  7. Consistently made decisions based primarily on a thorough understanding of the issues to be solved and their importance to the organization, these aspects taking priority over possible hierarchical pressures and influences.
  8. Successfully developed the training and professional qualifications of his/her colleagues, subordinates or peers, being directly involved in their coaching and helping them achieve their potential.
  9. Succeeded in motivating his/her colleagues, subordinates or peers to participate in the implementation of initiatives that have improved the organizational performance.
  10. Created an obvious atmosphere of trust, mutual respect and cooperation among his/her colleagues, subordinates or peers; consistently appreciated and openly acknowledged the merits and contributions of the team members in important projects that have been successfully implemented.

We are fortunate when we can recognize one or more of the above leadership behaviours demonstrated by the people we work with or even by ourselves. I welcome your views on leadership behaviours and I am sure we can find many more other positive examples.

©  Mădălina Coca

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