Four Characteristics of Great Leaders

by Joe on July 30, 2010

Road to leadership

Over the past three months I have been non-stop learning!  From reading books and I’ve taken much of my readings from the past three months and compiled what I have found to be the four characteristics great leaders demonstrate daily:

1. Leaders have strong opinions but weak defenses

Bob Sutton author of No Assholes Rule, gives a great example of how leaders opinions can set organizational culture.  In a post he describes how Andy Grove’s approach to leadership pushes three points that can be summed up with the following phrase, “Leaders have strong opinions but weak defenses.”  He says leaders explore and doubt in private, espouse self-fulfilling confidence in public and always seek to understand and adapt.

2. Leaders seek understanding

Are we able to express our ideas clearly and most importantly can we actively listen? Leaders seek understanding through civil dialogue. In Donald Miller’s post on civil dialogue, he lists his five principles of civil dialogue that take leaders conversations to the next level:

  1. Truth is not My Truth, it’s Just Truth
  2. Methodology is Part of the Message
  3. Without a Loving Heart, I am Like a Clanging Cymbal
  4. The Other Person has Sovereignty
  5. I Could be Wrong

3. Leaders consider business in their current state, not in its ideal state.

Seth Levine calls it “Your reality filter,” but it is just calling a spade a spade.  Ambitions, passion and excitement tend to cloud sound judgments on today’s decisions.  Put those feelings aside to make decisions based on data.  This practice of relying on data that describes the current state evidence based management.  Its the theory where we commit , “to finding and using the best theory and data available at the time to make decisions.”  Note it does not say feelings, or goal state.  When my feelings over run my logical ability to make a decision, I run into issues.  True leaders focus on the current reality and not the idealistic view of their business.

4. Leaders understand enough of each part of the whole so their ideas can have sex.

British author, Matt Ridley calls this “the mating of ideas.”  Ridley’s recent TED talk explained how ideas over the centuries have built upon traded with to enable an explosion over the past 100 years of standard of living.  He explains that people take their ideas or products and combine with or trade for other products creating new ideas or products.  His point is that not a single human knows how to make a mouse – drilling for oil to make the plastic, growing coffee for the rigger making the oil.  What is valuable here is that leaders can dive into details in a cross-functional way yet zoom out to make those details have sex and create value.

Leadership is an infinite resource, but finite in execution.  There are plenty of folks who know about these leadership characteristics, but very few who are able to implement them.  At the end of the day, we all ask ourselves the same question, am I implementing leadership characteristics in my life?

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