On the Qualities of Leaders

Reading “Effective Strategic Leadership”, author John Adair discusses three approaches to understanding leadership: Qualities, Situational & Functional.  Of the qualities approach to understanding – and developing – leadership Adair quotes a British military definition of leadership as:

‘…the art of influencing a body of people to follow a certain course of action; the art of controlling them, directing them and getting the best out of them.’

Such a definition – albeit a little blunt, perhaps – holds water in any field in which we have the privilege to lead.  Furthermore, in order to achieve that ‘influence’, there are personal qualities that will enable an effective leader to ‘get the best’ out of their teams.

Entering “leadership qualities” in a Google Search will return “about” 63.5 million results.  More than enough to be getting on with.  With a variety of websites of varying degrees of credibility pronouncing anywhere from 7, 10 or 101 skills, qualities or attributes of or for leaders.

There is clearly no definitive list of qualities that set leaders apart or would be beneficial for leaders to possess.  Adair suggests the following:

  • Leaders possess qualities that reflect their field – for educators, an empathy for children and learning would be a good start!
  • Leaders possess more generic qualities, such a enthusiasm, integrity, energy, toughness, resilience, etc.
  • There are always new qualities to learn from successful leaders – humour, humility, for example – but you should develop the natural qualities that you have.

If there are core qualities that a leader should posses, then they would be those we have known about for the longest time.  Therefore Adair offers us the four leadership virtues which Aristotle gave us:

  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Prudence
  • Fortitude

To cut through the “noise” of writing on leadership qualities, it helps enormously to focus on these few, simple terms.  From this platform we can build a broader sense of what we need to be, how we need to behave as leaders.

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