leadership qualities

In the Rethinking my Career series, we’ve looked at how to maintain balance & flexibility at work and how to progress your career. This week we are focusing on what it means to be a great leader. And more specifically how the pandemic has shifted our perception and appreciation of different leadership qualities and styles. And how these will (hopefully) impact future leaders.

The difference between leadership and management

Before we get started on the topic of leadership, let’s draw the distinction between leadership and management.

By my definition, a leader is someone who creates a strategic vision for the cause or people they work for. A leader is charged with setting goals, communicating their importance and ensuring delivery at the organisation level.

On the other hand, a manager is charged with formulating and executing plans in order to achieve the goals. The manager’s role is more administrative but none the less vital to success than the leader.

In some cases, there is a cross-over of these functions, but they can also co-exist independently with some great leaders being terrible managers and vice versa.

The fundamentals of a great leader

Undoubtably it’s been a challenging time for leaders recently.

For some, it has been about how to keep afloat with reduced demand or ability to operate. For others, it’s been about advancing science and technology at rapid speed. While for others yet it has been how to face unprecedented demands.

But regardless of circumstance, we have now, more than ever, been able to identify the great leaders from the mediocre. And the key distinguishing factor has been the shift to human-centric leadership.

And whilst there are countless studies, books, and training on the topic of great leadership, I want to boil down the key leadership qualities I’ve identified over the past year. Bear in mind, these qualities work alongside each other to achieve success. That is to say, without any one of these, success would be jeopardised.

1. A vision for the collective good

Leaders have many responsibilities, but over this time we have seen many pursue questionable paths in pursuit of political or self-motivated objectives.

The great leaders have been willing to make the tough decisions to protect the collective good, rather than individual interests.

2. Remaining focused on the big picture

Every leader faces tough decisions, but remaining focused on the big picture is essential to achieving the best outcomes, long-term. This requires rising above ‘survival mode’.

It often involves facing criticism following tough decisions, but clarity on the big picture, and effective communication of it, means that while people may not like decisions that are made, they can at least understand and respect them.

3. Clear communication

There has never been a time where open and clear communication has been needed. Many leaders have provided mixed messaging, afraid to take a firm stand, and generally, the results have been disastrous.

On the other hand, leaders that have been direct, honest and consistent in the communication have earned the respect, trust and admiration of their teams and communities.

4. Empathy

Understanding the impact of decisions on individuals and demonstrating that empathically is key to great leadership.

Not long ago it would have been unthinkable for a Prime Minister to communicate with her nation for the couch. However, Jacinda Arden’s action appealed to the New Zealand population (and the rest of the world) as she showed a genuine understanding of the struggles facing her people.

5. Integrity

Words needs to align with action. It’s that simple.

When we question our leader’s integrity, we challenge all aspects of their leadership.

The changing faces of leadership

This shift towards human-centric leadership places greater importance on building trust, open communication and creating lasting relationships. It focuses on inclusivity and emotional intelligence.

These characteristics are often associated with feminine leadership traits.

And perhaps not surprisingly, we’ve seen a rise in female leaders being elected. From Estonia becoming the first country in the world to have a female Prime Minister and President, to Kamala Harris as the US’s Vice President.

Let’s hope that this shift will continue and we can see more women not simply being represented in leadership roles but being sought out form their exceptional skills and abilities.

After all, there is no shortage of extraordinary female talent out there.

What are the key leadership qualities you see in great leaders? Share in the comments below.