What Makes a Leader Truly Great?

The question of this title blog can be answered in so many different ways. There are no right or wrong answers to this question. However, given the current state of the economy and world affairs I feel it is a question we should all be asking. Why, you ask? Well, given the way the world is at the moment I figure there are a lot of people out there currently hurting as a direct result of poor leadership. A primary outcome of poor leadership is the declining effectiveness of companies and strategies in numerous industries. Many of the underlying reasons as to why companies fail to produce good results are because their people are not caring enough or are not encouraged to do so. People stop excelling at their work, innovating and taking risks, when they are uninspired, unmotivated, not given direction and feel cheated by their employer. Complacency and greed have become the basis of so many of our current ills.

So what makes a leader truly great? Is it meeting shareholder financial targets? Is it meeting trade deficit targets? Is it increasing staff bonuses? My short answer is that it is none of those things. A leader can not be identified as being “great” for simply meeting the requirements of the job description. The financial compensation of CEOs more than justifies the proposed baseline outcomes we would expect from anyone in the top job. In government we see many leaders who have failed the basics: balancing budgets, providing basic health to all, providing employment opportunities, and protecting citizens and property from physical harm. What we should be looking for in a leader are the ‘qualities of greatness’. Once we look for those qualities, we will better off collectively. So what are those qualities of greatness? Before I attempt to give you what I think they are, I will begin by stating what qualities result in poor leadership. They are: empire-builder, greedy, self-interested, egotistical, unimaginative, cowardly, un-motivating and impersonal.

If we look at many of our leaders today, a large number of them have been hired on their abilities to be “good engineers” of the business or a country. Unfortunately entrepreneurial leaders are often overlooked in favour of the “engineer”. I submit that the entrepreneurial trait in a leader can lead to greatness. The entrepreneur is the architect and visionary. The engineers implement the architect’s vision.

A great leader is someone who can inspire, motivate and courageously make decisions that lead to greatness for all. A great leader has to be in touch with the people he/she is leading. He/she needs to know their plight, their fears and frustrations. He/she needs to know how to inspire their people and deliver the hope of something greater than what they are experiencing. We are fortunate, after many years, to finally see a leader like Barack Obama display the hallmarks of a great leader. Obama has given the people hope, he has inspired them to change and strive towards something better. Moving a nation of people towards a greater good is the ultimate test of a great leader. History confirms that any leader that can unite their people to a single common cause will succeed. As long as Obama can maintain unity for a “better America” then he and the people will ultimately triumph.

From my perspective, a great leader is someone who can unite people and make them work towards a higher purpose. A great leader is able to convince the people with sincerity and factual evidence, that if they triumph, their labour efforts will far exceed their current state of being. Therefore, a great leader is an expert at understanding change and transforming an organisation or a nation. A great leader is someone who is able to act on their convictions, and (regardless of how difficult or risky the road ahead may look) is able to take the necessary steps forward. A key trait is courage. A great leader is someone who is courageous. Over the years we appear to have undervalued and lost the importance of traits such as chivalry, courage and honour. We simply no longer speak of our leaders in that manner unless you live in a monarchy. People have been let down by so many leaders that they no longer respect leaders or admire their role. We no longer measure courage or honour in job interviews for the top job. It is no wonder so many companies and nations have been under-performing and there are so many disenfranchised people. The first step in attaining more great leaders is to recognise the traits that make great leaders. Once there is an acceptance that these traits are paramount we need to begin measuring them when we hire great leaders. Lastly as a society we need to foster and teach these values to future generations to ensure we breed future great leaders. The alternative of having more average leaders means many more people will live lives of struggle and will continue to battle for the basics: food, employment, health and housing.

Leadership for Corporate Success

StreetSmart Group releases its leadership paper targeted at C class executives. The paper outlines the essential qualities, traits and actions of leaders that determine corporate success. The paper argues that these specific qualities, traits and actions determine the success achieved by a company.

The paper is available for download from the research section of our site.


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