You’ve encountered bad leaders in the work place. You’ve seen the boss’s son — the character who, just because he was born on third base, suffers from the illusion that he’d hit a triple. You’ve seen the superior frozen in time, who simply presides, and can only manage to repeat one word to his subordinates — “no.” You’ve had to deal with the executive who’s postponed the implementation of your ideas and suggestions until some vague future date.
Face it — great leaders are rare. After working for many years, the stories you’ve read about great leaders have come to seem the stuff of fantasy or legend. Now you wonder whether you’d even know a great leader if you saw him or in action.
But great leaders do exist; and they’re not just historical figures like Abraham Lincoln or Ghandi. Let’s take a look at four indispensable characteristics that distinguish a great leader.
The Ability to Delegate — The woman or man who has to do everyone else’s job couldn’t lead a high-school cheer team. A great leader knows how to delegate, and then follow up. Ultimately, an executive who has the ability to delegate has the ability to trust. Executives more worried about keeping their jobs than getting the job done will fail to delegate — and eventually fail.
The Ability to Improvise — In the film Argo (2012), Ben Affleck plays a CIA agent, Tony Mendez, who’s appointed to smuggle a group of six hostages out of revolutionary Iran. His wild-card plan is to pose as a film company looking to make a sci-fi movie. When Mendez presents the plan to higher-ups in the US State Department, they all dismiss it as unrealistic. When they ask Mendez their options, he responds “this is the best of all bad options.” The rest of the breathtaking plot consists of a series of risks and improvisations by the hostages through Iranian customs.
A great leader knows how to navigate potential minefields. Rather than hold inflexibly to a master plan, he knows when to go off-script to achieve his ends. Particularly in a new or developing company, the “right” thing to do isn’t always clear. The leader who’s the shrewd improviser will make the best of a bad situation, and pull his company or group through.
The Ability to Inspire — A great leader knows that her employees don’t always feel like going to work in the morning, especially if they don’t own shares in the company. So she’s able to imbue them with purpose, and make them envision a glorious future for themselves — even if their current situation in the company is less glorious.
Competitive Zeal – According to a recent issue of Enterpreneur, Ash Kumra won a pitch contest for $30,000 cash known as the Irvine Entrepreneur Forum that helped him launch DesiYou, a digital video distributor of Indian entertainment. His secret? Shear competitive drive and preparation. He made sure that his pitch was better than everyone else’s. He found out all he could about the judges in advance of his pitch, and practiced tirelessly at perfecting a technique to hook the judges in the first 30 seconds of his presentation.
It’s arguable whether leadership qualities are inherited or acquired. But with these four qualities, you can be a great leader too.