The state of the world seems to become more volatile with every passing day. We’re living in an increasingly complex, connected world that requires increasingly complex, creative, and inclusive responses. We’re dealing with a shifting global economy, climate change, and the clash of civilizations, not to mention changing demographics and challenging employment prospects. None of it is easy.
When I was growing up I bought into the idealistic concept that the world was going to become a better place – for everyone. My worldview was limited to the Western World then, but still. I was sure wise leaders would prevail. They would take on their roles of responsibility for the betterment of those they served (for their fellow citizens, their customers, their colleagues, their students). They would be competent, wise, and focused on the greater good. What else would make sense? Why else would they take on those tough jobs, anyway?
You’d think I would have rethought that notion at some point; there have been more than enough examples of poor and destructive leadership throughout the world over the years. But, no, I have to admit that through most of my life – and I’m definitely not young – I did indeed assume that most people in leadership positions knew what they were doing and were doing it for the right reasons. I rejected the widely-held belief that people in positions of power were in it for – name your favourite self-serving purpose; the belief that self-interest rules, that power corrupts, and that greed and power will flourish whenever possible. I even questioned the milder form of skepticism, that people rise to their level of incompetence … and that the higher they go the greater the damage they can cause.
OK, I’m finally cured. The numerous calamitous events of the past several years, from the extraordinary greed that caused a global economic collapse in 2008 to the rise in inconceivably brutal civil wars across the Middle East, parts of Africa and beyond once those populations were “freed” of ruthless tyrants, have checked my idealism. Even watching the missteps and lack of constructive action of people in positions of authority closer to home has been sobering and discouraging.
One question we might ask ourselves is how we attract competent and wise people to leadership roles, people who have the necessary skills and also a commitment to the greater good. We badly need enlightened leadership at all levels and in all domains, both in the public sector and the private sector. The more challenging the environment, the more quickly mediocre leadership becomes apparent. And in these times of shrinking public funds and shrinking public trust, we clearly have a challenging environment.
What qualities do we need in our leaders? A google search provides countless links to lists of characteristics of good or great leaders. For some reason, the favoured number of traits as written by business columnists seems to be 7, 9 or 10. I didn’t spot any lists of 6 or 8, so just to change it up a bit, let’s condense these observations to six characteristics people seem to agree on:
- Character. Strength of character: honest, trustworthy, empathetic.
- Conviction. Passion for their work or cause, motivates others.
- Confidence. Confidence in themselves, inspires confidence in others.
- Competence. Sense of purpose, good instincts, makes things happen.
- Commitment. To excellence, to the organization and its people.
- Communication. Understands the importance of frequent, open, effective communication.
Do these qualities resonate with you? Do people you work with in leadership roles demonstrate these qualities? Are some of these characteristics more important than others? How about your political leaders? How about other leaders throughout the world? What about leaders in your organizations? And do they have followers? A leader, after all, is someone who has followers!
Stay tuned for posts on each of these traits of effective leaders.