Leadership Qualities – Characteristics of Leadership

One of the best books on leadership is Good to Great by Jim Collins. Collins researched a number of companies that were able to sustain outstanding growth over a period of 15 years while their competitors grew moderately, stayed flat, or lost money.

In all cases, the CEOs of those companies were men with humility and small egos who put the organization’s needs above their own. They took the blame when things went wrong and gave credit to others when things went right. Collins calls these men “Level 5” leaders, who have mastered the art of leadership.

His book inspired me to ask a number of business and professional leaders around the country to give me their definitions of what makes a great leader. Here is the second of three articles on leadership.

Dr. Jeffrey Graves, former President and CEO of KEMET Electronics Corporation, offers the following on key elements of leadership: “Communicate a clear ‘vision of success’ for the team/group/organization. Apply ‘facilitative leadership’ skills to draw ideas from the team and evolve them into a sound strategy/plan with ownership from the team. Drive ‘execution’ relentlessly, every day…a clear and logical plan with a few key metrics that measure success. Identify, train, coach/mentor, and reward your top talent…they are the cornerstone of your future.”

Debbie Griffith, Founder and President of Professional Network Connections, expresses a belief shared by many that, “A great leader is one who knows when it’s time to lead, and when it’s time to sit back and follow!”

Bill Hemphill, President of Hemphill Consulting, who is a 31-year veteran of the Air Force, says, “In the military we study leadership ad nauseum.” Hemphill believes, “A leader puts his organization’s mission first, and his/her subordinates second. A leader has to be quick to commend and slow to anger. A leader must have and be willing to share his/her passion for excellence. A leader must be willing to do anything he asks his subordinates to do.”

C. Dan Joyner, President and CEO of Prudential C. Dan Joyner Company gave me two quotes on leadership he says he’s used for many years. “Leadership: The ability to inspire others to join you in reaching to the stars. Leadership: involves building people up through praise and recognition, not being critical of their efforts, even when they fail.”

Clifton Parker, President of G&P Trucking, believes, “Leaders are to have no moral or behavior handles that others can grab onto and say, ‘This disqualifies this person from leadership.’ I believe a leader’s qualifications reveal someone who has his or her private and public life in balance, able to exercise moderation and humility while maintaining a good reputation. The time to figure out if someone can lead isn’t after they’ve assumed the role.”

What I’m seeing from all of the leaders in this series of articles is that leadership involves being able to get the work done successfully (task-orientation) and being able to manage and lead those responsible for the organization’s success (people-orientation). Most of them focus on the people aspect – how to encourage, motivate, inspire, and develop the best in each person.

In Good to Great, Collins found successful leaders are able to hire the right people for each job. Great leaders agree with him that, “People are not your greatest asset. The right people are.”