Four Qualities of a Leader
Most of the outstanding leaders I have worked with are neither tall nor especially handsome; they are often mediocre public speakers; they do not stand out in a crowd; they do not mesmerize an attending audience with their brilliance or eloquence. Rather, what distinguishes them is their clarity and persuasiveness of their ideas, the depth of their commitment, and their openness to continually learning more.
-Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline
I’ve been reading more about leadership lately and was struck by this quote from Peter Senge. He is striking at the essence of a leader, at what makes him or her different or unique. In his last sentence he lays out four powerful traits that set a leader apart, about what is at the center of leadership.
It seems every leadership book talks about clarity, particularly clarity of vision. Clarity is so important I think because it is so rare. So few of us have a clear picture of what it is we’re supposed to be doing, let alone how to do it. It is a really powerful thing when someone is laser-focused on what they are trying to accomplish. If a leader does not have clarity, those who are following will be in a fog.
Clarity is something I really struggle with. I’m a detail oriented person and so I’m great at focusing on the nuts and bolts if I have a clear picture of what I’m trying to achieve. I have a harder time stepping back, taking stock of my situation and finding clarity about how to move forward. The question I’ve been asking lately is, where does the leader find clarity?
You can have all the clarity in the world, but if you don’t have a vision worth following, then it isn’t worth much. Leaders have to be able to take their vision and empower others to carry it. The goal of the leader is not simply to accomplish the vision, but to cast the vision in such a way that people pick up the vision and make it their own. They become champions of the vision and are part of bringing it to reality.
Nothing great ever happened overnight. It looks like it at times, but most of the time the overnight successes were really preceded by years of hard work. I’m often tempted to believe that my success in life is determined by what I accomplish or what I create. It can be hard to see that washing dishes and doing puzzles with my kids on the floor and cleaning up another cup of spilled milk is making a difference. At work, I can measure success. I can chart revenue and launch products. At home, the results are much harder to pin down. In the end, I believe one of the most valuable things I can do is love my family and raise my sons – I just have to remind myself of the lifetime relationships I’m trying to build. Staying true to that takes commitment.
Great leaders continue to get better because they are always learning. Leaders stagnate when they believe that they’ve arrived and no longer have anything to learn. I’ve also learned that the best leaders are the best teachers. They want to help others grow and succeed and so they give away their knowledge, their resources, and their time. They have a posture of open hands, both to give away what they know and learn from others.
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