U.S. elections spark the question: What makes a good leader?

U.S. elections spark the question: What makes a good leader?

What sort of qualities do we want in our leaders? With the recent U.S. elections, this question –  as well as the question of what makes a dangerous leader – have been on the minds of voters and people all around the world.

Former CEOs, senior employees, psychologists and researchers found that a drive to learn, an acceptance of change and a unifying personality are three important qualities of an effective leader.

1) The humility to admit that there is still a lot to learn 

People look to their bosses for answers, which is why it's ironic that the best leaders are those who can admit that they don't have all of the answers. 

McKinsey and Company recently interviewed various CEOs and psychologists who agreed that being open to learning is an essential trait for a leader. Helen Alexander, the former CEO of the Economist Group, was one of the interviewees. She describes the ideal leader as always having an "antennae up." She says that they should be intellectually curious people who recognise patterns in the market. They should want to break old patterns and seek out opportunities to form better ones.

Good leaders are always striving to learn more about their business, market and industry. x 0 0 0 14106348 800Good leaders are always striving to learn more about their business and industry.

If humility is often what results in productive change, then hubris is what stalls improvement. Mary Meaney, a McKinsey partner, goes so far as to state that arrogance has been the downfall of many executives.

In her experience, she says "many leaders fell into the trap of believing that they were invincible, invulnerable, and infallible." 

In this day and age, the environment is so much more competitive and remaining stagnant for even a short time could very likely be the death of a company. Once people stop recognising that they could be doing something better, they promote a culture of nonlearning, says Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan. Companies need all the innovation they can get to stay ahead of competitors.

If humility is often what results in productive change, then hubris is what stalls improvement.

Plus, if leaders can't admit they're wrong, they also cause problems internally because they become very difficult people to work with. Robert Half Australia states that people who feel that they are all-knowing often alienate their co-workers and lose their trust and respect.

Management training should be centred around teaching employees that you learn through mistakes.  In this sense, they know that learning is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength and a way to unify the office. 

2) Willingness to adapt to change

In addition to having an unrelenting desire to learn, the willingness to adapt to change is a must-have attitude for leaders.  

Leaders who are resistant to making transitions, on the other hand, are often setting themselves up for failure. Helen Alexander states that companies that don't keep a look out for changes face future problems. Those companies that do keep a look out for change, however, are able to remain competitive.

Consider the case of Microsoft. Kate Sweetman and Shane Cragun, both founders of SweetmanCragun, wrote in Harvard Business Review about how before the new CEO Satya Nadella came along in 2014, Microsoft's CEO had failed to embrace cloud technology.

Great leaders recognise when it's time to move to a different stage in their business' development. x 0 0 0 14101232 800Great leaders recognise when it's time to move to a different stage in their business' development.

But within 24 months of taking over, Nadella transformed the company by making cloud computing a new focus. Nadella realised that they had made a potentially fatal mistake by not adapting to the disruptive technology. 

Thanks to Nadella's realism about the need to readjust to a business world that is becoming increasingly reliant on the cloud, Microsoft was better able to compete.

Microsoft is a key reminder that industries or businesses that are in denial about the need to swim with the tide of our increasingly digital world will die out if they haven't already.

If people make transformation a habit in the company, they'll be on the road to success. Good leaders recognise that change is the only way to move forward.

3) Building trust with employees 

Lastly, a good leader aims to bring people together, not to be divisive. 

Being able to influence people and gain their trust is one of the qualities that make for a good leader. Kansas State University's Andrew Wefald, an associate professor in the Staley School of Leadership Studies, found that political skills – the ability to influence people and foster an environment of trust – is another key quality of a good leader. 

The best leaders are those that know how to bring people together rather than drive them apart. x 0 0 0 14108735 800The greatest leaders are those that know how to bring people together rather than drive them apart.

Wefald worked with two collaborators – Kyle van Ittersum, assistant professor at Angelo State University, and Jennifer Mencl, associate professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth – and together they studied the merits of interpersonal skills in leadership by surveying 278 employees.

The three interpersonal skills they studied included: emotional sensitivity (understanding other people's emotions), emotional control (the ability to control one's emotions) and political skills (the ability to influence people to improve personal and group outcomes).  

Out of the three, the results showed that political skill was the most important to have to become an effective leader. 

Become a leader today

True leaders are thus very social people who try to keep groups functional and maintain trust. They keep things going and try to unify rather than divide their employees.

True leaders try to keep groups functional and maintain trust.

When we think of good leaders and influential people in our lives, these three qualities likely come to mind. They are people that have hope for their company and want to make a change if it's what will keep them competitive. They are people that know that the smartest people are in fact the people who are always learning. Finally, they are people who want to keep the business afloat, which means they will go above and beyond to gain the trust of everyone and ensure that groups remain functional.  

Most bosses and managers know that while leadership qualities can be inherent, there is always room for honing these skills. Contact Line Management Institute to enquire about the Certificate IV in Leadership and Management, which will help you develop these skills and become the best leader possible.  

Published by: LMIT