Updated: May 19, 2020
I don't believe in a "list" of qualities that every leader should have. I know that might sound harsh. Many of us probably have performance evaluations centered around a "list" of qualities. Or, perhaps you have been working on succession planning and you've teamed together with other execs to create a "list" of the type of person you are looking for. I see two fatal flaws with creating lists:
This assumes that the best leader is a well-rounded leader. While it might be nice to have well rounded leaders, the best leaders are extremely great at their strengths but often have areas in which they are weak. (for more on this read Marcus Buckingham's 9 Lies about Work).
This assumes that the ideal leader who meets your "list" of qualities actually exists. Here's a truth - he/she doesn't! OK, maybe there are a couple of ideal leaders in this world who actually meet ALL of the qualities on your list, but I don't think you are going to be that person, I don't think you should strive to be that person, and I don't think you have even a sliver of a chance to recruit that person.
Think about it. Great leaders, the best of today, have a wide variety of leadership styles. They all lead in a different way. Place in your mind images of Richard Branson (Virgin enterprises), Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway), Elon Musk (Tesla), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Bill Gates (Microsoft), and Gary Vaynerchuk (VaynerX).
Can you imagine telling Gary V to tone it down and be a little more reserved like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates?
Do you think Richard Branson would ever be satisfied striving to live a non-public life like Mark Zuckerberg?
I think not! They all have their own style, they've all embraced their own style, and they are all leading through their style - and that is what makes them effective leaders. They are not trying to conform to some "list."
Despite their differences, they all do have one thing in common and if I were ever forced to create a list, this one thing would be the only thing that I'd put on the list. What is the one thing they have in common? They all are passionately curious!
The greatest leadership trait of all is CURIOSITY!
They all are constantly asking questions, constantly wondering "what if?", constantly dreaming up a world that does not currently exist. "What if we made space travel to the moon affordable? What if we provided customer service in a relaxed way? What if we take a social network to the world? What if we put a computer on every desk?" The list goes on and on.
Whoever said "curiosity killed the cat," certainly wasn't a leader (Personal opinion - I think it was some 40 something year old who lives in his mother's basement with 14 cats). Curiosity is the foundation to improvement. It is the beginning of growth. It is the antidote for stagnation.
If you think about some of the greatest leaders you've ever worked with, didn't they have curiosity? I've asked hundreds of people about the most influential leader in their lives. Without fail, these were leaders who asked questions - they were curious about the personal lives of their workers, they were curious about improvement, and they were curious about possibilities that lie ahead.
While there are lots of ways to develop the trait of curiosity, there is one that I'd suggest to you today. It's simple and you can do it no matter your title or what is on your schedule today. Simply to this - ask 10 open-ended questions to which you don't already know the answer today. Try it! As you read this, you're probably thinking - "Gosh, that is simple," but is it? Try it out and leave your comments below.
To get you started, here's a list of 20 Curious Questions.
Why have we always done it that way?
What technology do we have now that will be dead in 3 years?
What do my team members dream about?
Where is there waste in our systems or processes?
How much trust exists within my team?
What would it take to double our sales/production/performance?
What have we not changed in 5 years?
What would happen if I got hit by a bus on the way to work? Is my team ready?
What would cause this project to go terribly wrong and fail miserably?
What if I put $20 a month into a saving account?
How would things be different if you forgave that person?
What is something that keeps my team member up at night?
What if I spent more time with my kids?
What are my team members really proud of?
What can I start doing daily that will ensure personal growth until I die?
What could I do to empower another team member?
What special gifts has God given me to lead?
What if I stopped believing the self-doubting thoughts that enter into my head?
What roadblocks do we know are in our way?
What if it actually worked?