Four Traits of Effective Leaders

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Photo “Sailing Ship” by Gideonc, used under creative commons license.

These traits certainly don’t comprise a complete list of what makes leaders effective, but, just as certainly, they are common – perhaps uncommonly common – among effective leaders. I’ve observed these traits while working with CEOs, market leaders and executives, not to mention learning many of them the hard way – on my own. There are four things I’ve found to be common among effective leaders:

A clear, shared vision.
An effective leader has a singular, unshakable vision. They are able to clearly communicate that vision as the driving passion for all those who choose to follow. They inspires the entire company to join in his vision and make it their own. They are not the ones steering the ship, nor are they the ones setting the sails. They are the ones standing at the bow, pointing the way and urging the team onward.  Where there is no vision, the people go in different directions. 

The commitment to see it through.
The leader is committed to completing the mission and achieving the vision. There is nothing that can distract them, detain them or deter them from reaching their goal. Their focus is on the goal and he is determined to reach it. They understands that the art of focus includes the art of saying no. Every opinion, idea or suggestion placed before him rises and falls, not on their own merit, but on their ability to contribute to reaching the goal. They must be able to say “No” to some otherwise good ideas, because they will only serve to become a diversion to the task at hand.   Where there is no commitment, the ship often wastes resources as they constantly shift.

Enablement to get the task done.
Leaders can’t get the job done alone. They must enable others by equipping and empowering them to get it done. While leaders should be with the team in front, they can’t get the job done alone and must enable others around them to get it done. The most savvy may become a servant or ask their staff to think of them as their internal clients –rather than a monarch.  Those who can’t look like micro-managers which destroy spirit, innovation, and scale. Where there is no enablement, people don’t feel motivated to be proactive.

Accountability put in place.
You cannot measure success without accountability. Every distance that is traveled must be measured and marked. Are we heading in the right direction? Are we getting closer to the goal? Are we on time? What do we need to adjust? Everyone must accountable to someone. The leader is accountable to customers to deliver the goods, to stakeholders to deliver the profits, and to employees to deliver direction, purpose, enablement, inspiration and reward. Each member of the crew is accountable to the others to be as strong a link in the chain as the rest. Failure and success must be consistently rewarded in appropriate proportion to ensure that the ship stays on course.  Where there is no accountability, the people do whatever is right in their own eyes.

This list isn’t complete, and career growth is a journey, and just the observations of my very limited experience.  With that in mind, I very much welcome your contributions to add additional traits in the comments below.

There’s an vibrant discussion on my FB feed on this topic.

  • http://www.jeromepineau.com/ JeromePineau

    I’m curious, of all the folks you met in leadership roles, what percentage would you say meet the above criteria?

  • http://www.jeromepineau.com/ JeromePineau

    And here’s an additional trait I find crucial: the ability to incessantly doubt one’s self. A doubtless leader is very dangerous in my experience.

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  • elizabethfairleigh

    Great post Jeremiah – I’d add tolerance for people making mistakes – As one wise CEO said to me back in my early career, if you are not making mistakes, you are not moving fast enough. Fear of making mistakes is paralyzing to the individual and the organization – Leaders should encourage people to use their best judgement, make wise decisions and learn from their mistakes – These lessons learned can be shared with the team to encourage growth and foster trust.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Jerome, akin to a blind leader leading a ship in the dark?

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    I really like this one Elizabeth, I would tally this as related to the Empowering others mantra –but you added to it, but suggesting to not just empowering but encouraging innovation. Thank you,

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Jerome, it’s hard to really know, as I don’t get to interact with them all the time.

  • http://www.jeromepineau.com/ JeromePineau

    well, sometimes they “lead” them in the light but still in the wrong direction — absolutely self-confidently…until the iceberg tip shows up ;)

  • http://www.jeromepineau.com/ JeromePineau

    Yeah, but those traits, you can usually tell if they have them or not fairly quickly on a first meet…

  • elizabethfairleigh

    This person’s leadership style had a huge impact on my professional growth and decision to strike out on my own … 18 years ago. Forever grateful.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Elizabeth, that’s amazing, it sounds like you should write up a post explaining how this person changed you. Thank you for sharing.

  • elizabethfairleigh

    I would ‘cept I don’t publish my own blog! :-)

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