The business world is full of managers. Even in the face of recent economic-fueled cutbacks and downsizing, managers remain in abundant supply. Yet despite all the management, so many companies remain starved for genuine leadership. That’s because while businesses (budgets, market strategies, production quotas, etc.) need to be managed, employees need to be led.
So stop managing and start leading! Begin by learning what true leadership qualities are. While we’ve all known and admired that “natural-born leader,” more often than not most leadership skills simply lie dormant or undiscovered. If we just open our eyes and look, we can find and develop leadership.
We can ascertain much about our potential for true leadership when we examine how we handle our own relationships. R.E. Thompson, mentioned in Spiritual Leadership: A Commitment to Excellence for Every Believer, suggests five questions worthy of consideration:
- Do you “use” people or cultivate them?
- Are you annoyed by the failures of others or do you see those failures as challenges?
- Are you more likely to criticize or encourage?
- Do you direct people or develop them?
- Do you shun or seek those with special needs or problems?
What changes do you need to make just based on this simple test? Perhaps therein lies the ultimate gauge of genuine leadership potential — what you do with the results of your analysis. Will you stand up and answer the obvious call to action or will you simply sit on the data?
In Spiritual Leadership, author J. Oswald Sanders presents a list of diagnostic questions that I pull out every year for a little self-inventory and to double-check how I’m doing. I find it an invaluable tool to make sure I’m leading rather than just managing. Below is a synopsis of that list:
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- Are you an independent thinker? Leaders use the best ideas of others and make decisions. Leaders won’t wait for others to make up their minds.
- Do you maintain self-control when things go wrong? When the chips are down all eyes land on the leader. “Losing it” under adversity forfeits respect and influence. Leaders remain calm in crisis and resilient in disappointment.
- How do you handle criticism? A leader is humble and learns to profit from even petty or malicious criticism.
- How do you handle disappointment? Are you easily dejected or do you turn disappointment into creative new opportunities?
- Are you dependent on the praise of others? Do you have enough self-esteem to hold steady in the face of disapproval and even temporary loss of confidence? Is your self-worth based on internal or external factors?
- Are those who report to you generally at ease when they approach or talk to you? A true leader is sympathetic and friendly. He or she offers a safe haven for others to confide their struggles and challenges.
- Have you mastered the power of forgiveness? Can you move past indiscretions or personal injuries or do you harbor ill-will and feed resentments?
- Can you accept opposing views and decisions without taking offense? Are you only happy when things are done your way?
- Have you ever broken a bad habit? True leaders learn how to master their appetites — especially the self-destructive ones.
- Do you implement discipline discretely without making a power play? Are your corrective measures delivered fairly and without being destructive? Expert leadership has no need to showcase external force.
- Are you tactful? Genuine leaders think before speaking and anticipate how their words will affect others. They minimize sarcasm and speak respectfully to all.
- Do you readily gain the respect and cooperation of others? True leaders never result to pressure or manipulation to get others to act.
- Do you lead by example? Do you hold yourself to the same standards as your employees and exemplify those qualities consistently? The “Do as I say, not as I do” leader is doomed to failure.
When looking to recruit or promote leaders, there are other telltale signs that a skilled interviewer can quickly expose and evaluate. Does this person have a lot of friends? A circle of loyal friends is a good index of leadership potential. Are they accountable and willing to accept responsibility? Are they peacemakers who can easily identify situations where they reconciled opponents and diverted hostility? Are they genuinely interested in people — all people from all races, backgrounds and belief systems? And perhaps most important, have they identified a master passion? The presence of a single purpose and focused energies is a very powerful motivator towards achieving one’s goals. Of course exploring these traits can also further enhance our own self-evaluation of leadership readiness.
While truly inspiring leaders seem a rarity, we can easily reverse that tendency. I believe the capacity for great leadership lies within each of us. At their very core, great leaders need only need master two central characteristics: The willingness to set ego aside, and the ability to discipline thoughts and actions. As we take control of these two basic fundamentals, we naturally become more empathetic, more approachable, more engaging — in fact, more representative of everything that defines true leadership.