A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
In an Entrepreneur magazine article last year, the question was posed to numerous people on the topic of what makes a great leader. In a word, here are a few of the responses: focus, confidence, transparency, integrity, inspiration, passion, patience, and generosity, to name a few.
Possessing all of the twenty-two qualities listed in the article might be a stretch for most of us. But it is worth considering. Pause, if you will for a moment, and internalize this question: What makes you a great leader? What thoughts, words, or reactions comes to mind? Perhaps you’ve never looked at yourself as a leader, much less a great one.
Would your answers change if I substituted the word “great” for “strong”? I tend to reserve the “great leader” distinction for people like Jesus, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., or in my case, Mrs. Montgomery, my 6th-grade teacher who survived having me as a student.
For now, I will reserve attaining the greatness status for another time, and focus on characteristics of developing strong leadership skills. I want to put it in context, and also put it within our reach. Here are six things I think about when I consider strong leadership.
A strong leader focuses on his responsibilities, not his rights
This is a trap many leaders fall into. They think with their title come certain rights – failing to see that in true leadership it’s just the opposite. A strong leader focuses more on his or her responsibilities which will increase and less on his rights which will decrease. Until you understand this basic leadership principle you will never be a strong leader.
A strong leader gives away power, doesn’t hoard it
With leadership comes a certain degree of power. But your responsibility as a leader is not to be on a “power trip”, abusing it and making everyone else miserable. With power comes responsibility and a certain amount of humility is in order. The strong leader is secure enough not to hoard power and is willing to give it away.
A strong leader concedes the spotlight by putting others in it
How often have you seen leaders seek the limelight, take credit for the good that is accomplished, and throw others under the bus when things go wrong? A strong leader is just the opposite. He takes a little less than his share of the credit when things go well, and takes on more blame when things go wrong. A strong leader is willing to take a step back and put others in the spotlight and let his people shine.
A strong leader grows more leaders, not more followers
A strong leader is not one who is focused on growing more followers. His focus is on growing more leaders. This is, and will always be, the tipping point for strong leaders. Your success as a leader is not found in adding more followers, it’s found the multiplication of growing more leaders. Do the math and think multiplication, not addition.
A strong leader creates margins for his people, not barriers
Every strong leader understands that raising up leaders is a process. It doesn’t come naturally for everyone. And along the way, there are learning curves that must be taken into account. A strong leader will make room for growth and mistakes, and remove barriers that prevent that growth from happening.
A strong leader will give up the good in order to attain the great
One of the strongest challenges you will face in leadership is learning how to say no to the good in order to have the great. Many good ideas, opportunities, and invitations will compete for your time and energy. But you, as a strong leader, must differentiate between what is simply a good opportunity and see how it aligns with your values, vision, and goals. If those good things do not move you in the direction of the great then you should let them go.
These six things I’ve listed are but a starting point. They are markers on the path to strong leadership. What would you add to the list?