Career psychologist Sinead Brady gets to the bottom of what traits and behaviour define a successful leader, in the first of an inspiring series on leadership. It all starts with
What is leadership? How can I become a better leader? Two simple questions yet the answers are multiple, layered and complex.
Google the word leadership and you get 315,000,000 results. Type it into Amazon to find a book on the topic and you can choose from 216,179 titles. Ask leaders from business, sport, politics, entertainment or education and few will agree on a single definition. Speak to leaders in geographically diverse regions and once again the boundaries shift.
Vital to every company and arguably the most sought-after talent in the 21st century workplace, leadership is both elusive and hard to define. To complicate matters further, leadership is considered a skill which suggests that it is possible to learn, grow and develop. Yet when you are in the presence of great leadership it is easily identifiable.
So how does a great leader act?
A great leader helps others to thrive and flourish. She has the capacity to inspire, the ability to motivate, engage and move people to action. She learns from failure and has a growth mindset. Engaging others, she outperforms the competition all the while managing to be fair and just. Direct yet candid in her communication, she has a strong and positive influence over others even when making tough calls.
Willing to stretch her hand out, up or down the ladder of success to help others, she is never afraid of brilliance and always has the door open to mentor and support others.
She never mistakes leadership with a title, never thrives on power nor confuses management with leadership. She is strategic, focused, kind, humble, sharp, agile and competent. Available to talk, she sees the human side of the people she works with.
While these qualities loosely form ‘a list’ of typical leadership traits, having them all, or even the majority, doesn’t always make you a great leader.
And here’s where the complexity deepens – even when you bear witness to a great leader in action it is difficult to authentically replicate their style. Leadership style cannot be copied as the qualities of great leaders are as unique as their fingerprint. One size simply doesn’t and cannot fit all.
So how can you build your own authentic leadership style and become a better leader?
From our perspective there is one unifying trait that all great leaders have irrespective of their attributes or characteristics. Without exception they build psychologically safe spaces, teams and environments where their people can work, collaborate, thrive and flourish. Spaces without fear of reproach, where failure is never final and where conversations are candid and kind. Standards are high, performance is key and growth is expected. But above all great leaders ensure, without exception, that everyone both feels and is psychologically safe. They create and set the agenda for a positive, productive company culture.