These are the 10 principles that make good leadership great

Today, leadership and the routes into it are more diverse than ever before.

Today, leadership and the routes into it are more diverse than ever before. Image: Shutterstock

Mariame McIntosh Robinson
Managing Director, Qenta Inc.
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  • Today, in the private and public sectors, our leaders are becoming more diverse and less conventional.
  • For these leaders, and those who aspire for the top spot one day, these 10 characteristics are where they should focus their development.
  • At their core, they require soft skills and the ability to make smart, empathetic decisions under pressure.

From the young CEO to the female head of a male-dominated industry; from the ethnic minority head of state to the immigrant tech guru — today’s paths into leadership are more diverse than ever before.

These perhaps unconventional leaders will be challenged, at times in unfair ways. They may face difficult headwinds that others in their position do not. They run the risk of their work being judged more harshly than others; of having to uphold an even higher standard because of their background, whatever it may be.

Despite these challenges, they are often exceptional.

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Diverse leaders and the challenges they face

The challenges these leaders from diverse or unconventional backgrounds face, and the way they overcome them and flourish, can teach us what great leadership looks like, especially in hard times.

These leaders’ goal should be to use their background as a strength, embracing empathy and soft skills, working with their ability to connect with others, to challenge the status quo and push organizations and their cultures to achieve success This will inevitably mean these environments become more welcoming of varying models of leadership.

Being the kind of leader that thrives when viewed as an outsider, or who might not be a traditional or obvious choice for the role, isn’t easy. Here are 10 characteristics that leaders should embrace and build to excel in leadership positions — especially when the odds are stacked against you.

The 10 characteristics to make a modern leader

1. Integrity

Integrity must be at the core of leadership. Even if leaders are under pressure, if they do not compromise their values, they will leave the situation stronger and truer to themselves. Leaders’ actions must be consistent with their words.

2. Communicative

Leaders with strong communication skills can influence outcomes, motivate teams to succeed in tough situations and build trust within an organization. They can also build better relationships with customers and other external stakeholders. Leaders should prioritize building their communication “muscle” — this is the one skill that all leaders must do well.

3. Feedback-positive

Effective leaders develop the art and skill of being truly coachable. Leaders who solicit feedback, distil it and act on it, make themselves more effective. Leaders should also be skilled at giving feedback to develop their teams and role model this desired behaviour throughout the organization. Leadership is apprenticeship-like in nature; one can take courses and read materials, but most of the learning takes place on the job. As such, giving and receiving feedback is critical for development, and understanding your team and working environment.

4. Resilience

Leaders should seek to take the high road in situations — even if they may be mistaken as not being politically savvy. Successful leaders prioritize leading with soft skills and carefully assess the root cause of a situation, responding in a non-threatening yet strategic manner. They take responsibility.

5. Self-belief

When faced with challenging situations, leaders that have genuine self-awareness and self-care can maintain an objective perspective and not let the seeds of self-doubt take root.

Leaders will inevitably be tested. When this happens, they must lead with confidence and courage, and to do so, self-care is essential. They can, for example, ring-fence personal time, or take time to document the things in life that bring them joy and that they are grateful for.

6. Vision

A leader must engage an organization to align around a vision and strategy. They must share a clear plan that is inclusive, and flexible as needed. Delivering on a vision and seeing through goals is an essential leadership characteristic.

7. Emotional intelligence

Leaders must develop and overinvest in strengthening emotional intelligence via formal and on the job training. This may take time — emotional intelligence is hard won, but a valuable skill once developed.

8. Networking

Relationships and authentic networking are important. Leaders should surround themselves with their personal board of directors and excel at nurturing and maintaining relationships across and outside their organizations.

9. Mentorship

Regardless of the level of success they have reached, leaders must have mentors of varying types. These can include their traditional peers, people from a different generation or from other, unexpected, quarters. Think, for example, a successful athlete mentoring a CEO on maintaining focus under pressure.

10. Purposeful

Successful leaders should seek to inspire others and positively impact environments for the future. Doing this requires them to have a purpose, and it must come from their own values and experiences. Their legacy should be based on their purpose and to develop other leaders who can, in turn, pursue this same goal, or contribute to it in some way.

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What is a YGL?

For leaders today, especially those from diverse or unconventional backgrounds, there are far fewer experiences or case studies to draw from and learn from in business literature. They must, instead, learn from experience and trusted connections. We are only going to see more diverse or perhaps unconventional or unexpected leaders in the public and private sectors.

By following these 10 steps, these leaders will be able to hit the ground running in their new role, and aspiring leaders will know what it takes to make it to the top.

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