From the poles of public perception, leaders fall into one of two very broad categories.

  1. Leaders who demand to be followed.
  2. Leaders who people want to follow.

Some leaders may span both categories, but our article today will focus on 4 qualities of leaders that people want to follow.

1. Humility

Well, you already knew that. You were hoping to come here to learn something new, and we simply tell you that great leaders are humble. Hang with us for a minute, because we’re also going to talk about what it means to be humble.

Psychology Today blogger Michael W. Austin Ph.D. describes a humble person this way:

The humble person keeps their accomplishments, gifts, and talents in a proper perspective. He/she has self-knowledge, and is aware of their limitations as an individual and as a human being.

We second this notion of a humble person. Humility in leadership requires one to maintain a fairly accurate assessment of their knowledge and influence, and to recognize the true interdependence between themselves and the people they lead.

Accurate is an important word when it comes to assessing one’s capabilities. This means that leaders do not have to minimize, or play down the skills they possess. This is just silly behavior, and people are not so inclined to follow those who act in such self-deprecating ways.

If a leader refuses to acknowledge their salient attributes or actual achievements, it is not done from a humble place. It stems from an obligation to appear humble, or to not be arrogant. It is merely reverse pride, not humility. Reverse pride is still pride.

We don’t recommend that you appear humble, but that you be humble.

How do you do that?

Keep your accomplishments, gifts, and talents in a proper perspective. Acquire the self-awareness to know your limitations as an individual and as a human being, without dismissing your salient attributes. In other words, assess yourself accurately.

Note: This may take some practice.

2. A Learning Spirit

Perhaps one of the greatest learning disabilities a leader can have is an opinion; an inflexible, preconceived notion about the way things work.

Knowledge is forever expanding, and great leaders need to keep learning. Teams will want to follow one who is leading them on a journey. They are less likely to willingly follow one who claims to know all of the answers for how to get there in advance. Most humans want to be guided, not controlled.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any answers. Your opinions may be correct. Your conclusions may have been carefully considered based on reliable data.

You have learned many things, and sharing this information so that others can learn from you is part of being a great leader. Yet, you don’t know everything. Your team will have great respect for you if you’re willing to modify your answers as new information becomes available and admit when you learned something new.

Learning requires listening, and perhaps knowing how to hold a Learning Conversation. According to the Jorgensen Learning Center, the 5 basic guidelines of a Learning Conversation are:

  1. Listen for understanding
  2. Speak from the heart
  3. Suspend certainty.
  4. Hold space for difference
  5. Slow down the conversations

You can learn more about all 5 of these guidelines here.

3. Good Listening Skills

Note the first guideline for holding a Learning Conversation in the last section asks us to listen for understanding, not just hear. We hear things all of the time without much focus or reflection.

Listening for the purpose of understanding actually requires us to focus our attention on the meaning being conveyed by another individual with our minds intent on comprehending what they are attempting to communicate.

Good leaders know they have much to learn much from their peers and the people they lead, but great leaders truly do learn because they listen while seeking to understand, and not formulating their response while the other person is still speaking. When great leaders ask questions, they do so to deepen their understanding of a matter and they actively listen to the answers.

Contrast this type of inquiry with merely asking questions to feign interest in a topic, or to trap another individual because you already decided that you are not interested in what they have to say.

A leader with good listening skills is a leader that every reasonable person will want to follow.

A leader with good listening skills is a leader that every reasonable person will want to follow. Click To Tweet

4. An Effective Communicator

Calls for better communication have become cliche in corporate culture. Sometimes lack of communication itself is not the culprit, but rather the lack of communication about how specific things are communicated.

For example, a less seasoned employee may submit a time off request, and eagerly await your email letting her know of your approval or disapproval. She may not know that time off request statuses are only available when she logs into the third party scheduling software that your company uses.

In this scenario, there is a clear flow of communication, but she was unaware of how such things are communicated.

Great leaders are effective communicators rather than people who just say some things. The end result of ineffective communication is no communication; at the end of the day the right message did not get conveyed to the recipient.

Consider these two statements:

It’s important to keep your work area neat and clean, especially when the regional manager comes to visit.

The regional manager noticed a take-out order had been left on your desk overnight. Be sure to discard these things before you leave for the day.

Which one is an example of effective communication that is more likely to result in a change of behavior?

Further Considerations

The qualities discussed above are not the only qualities of a great leader. Much more needs to be said about this topic, and we will be exploring this in greater detail for future articles.

We selected these 4 qualities because of their interconnectedness, and that we believe to have a somewhat different perspective on these specific qualities compared to the conventional literature.

These 4 qualities are interconnected, and practicing just one of them often prepares one for the others.

Humility helps leaders discover their inherent interdependence with the people they lead. This awareness of interdependence helps them realize their need to learn from others.

Learning from others requires listening for the purpose of understanding, and therefore fully grasping what is being communicated.

Finally, as we become better listeners, we often become better communicators as we are more in touch with how our specific audience receives the information we wish to convey.


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By | June 29th, 2017|Leadership|

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