Eight Characteristics of Leadership
first wrote about leadership over ten years ago and in updating this article
for ZimNotes I was struck less by what has changed about a leader's qualities
(not much) and more by who I would use as an example today. For instance,
I had Ralph Nader listed under "trustworthy" for his consistency......regardless
of whether you think he has been consistent there are many who would not
see him as trustworthy today.
is leadership? Leadership is an influence process: The ability to motivate
others to do something, believe something or act a certain way. Leadership
style is the pattern of behaviors you use when you are trying to influence
the behavior of others.
Many people in the nonprofit/public interest sector have been thrust into
leadership positions without appropriate training or experience. The good
news is it's not too late to learn; there are many classes that offer
tools for effective leadership. Here are eight characteristics Zimmerman
Lehman looks for in a leader.
1) VISION - being able to articulate the future in clear simple
language: An emphasis on what will be rather than what is. This is a quality
almost all management gurus agree is necessary for a good leader. Our
recent election had two very different visions for the future; whether
you liked those visions is a different story. "I have a dream" by Martin
Luther King, "I don't want a revolution in which I can't dance" by Emma
Goldman are two of my favorites. A leader should be able to state concretely
what success will look like and how their organization will get there.
You must understand what MOTIVATES people. Dolores Huerta and Caesar
Chavez have inspired farm workers with their vision of a better life and
working conditions. While those of us in the nonprofit world can't often
offer high salaries, there are other motivators. Simple but too often
ignored motivators include; praise (tell folks they've done a job
well - it is hard to overdo this one!), appreciation (a simple
"thank you" regularly will earn you respect), and recognition (awards,
credit on a report, a letter of commendation). Learning to give positive
feedback is crucial! Teambuilding exercises are a great way to build enthusiasm
and cooperation. Sometimes, however, we need to motivate by being clear
about consequences of inappropriate behavior.
One new trait, a current buzz phrase that was just coming on the scene
ten years ago, is EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE (EI). Some call this a
"gut instinct or an innate sense about what others are feeling." It used
to be called empathy or intuition but now google EI and you get over one
million hits. "EI" includes identifying, using, understanding and managing
emotions. Both Oprah and Madonna can read a crowd like no one else and
their EI is part of what makes them both successful. Being able to read
people (know what they want or need) is invaluable. Those million hits
will tell you that if your are not born with this instinct you can learn
4) You must be able to EMPOWER others. Jesse Jackson states
that his Citizenship Education Fund "seeks to empower citizens through
the effective use of public policy advocacy, issue orientation, and connections
between the greater community and the disenfranchised." He does this well.
Teach people how to accomplish a task - don't do it for them (even if
you can do it faster or better, you don't have the time). Tell people
what you expect from them, give them the tools they need to succeed, and
then get out of their way. Learn to listen; nothing is more empowering
than being heard.
5) You must be TRUSTWORTHY. Jimmy Carter's greatest asset
is that his behavior is consistent with his beliefs. Even those who disagree
with him respect him enormously. No one will follow a dishonest or unfair
leader with enthusiasm. Actions do speak much louder than words!
6) Leaders must be willing to take RISKS. This sounds like
a cliché but if you do things the way they've always been done - you will
always get what you had before! Co-founders of Google, Larry Page and
Sergey Brin, regularly take risks and today are reaping the benefits.
Leaders should also reward risk-taking in others.
7) A leader should be able to FOCUS & FOLLOW THROUGH. This
involves setting priorities and doing what you say you will. Woody Allen,
role model or not, once said, "Eighty percent of success in life is just
showing up." This is absolutely true. Knowing what to do and then doing
it (or delegating it to some one who will make it happen) is a critical
8) And finally, but certainly not last - it helps to have a sense
of HUMOR. The ability to laugh at oneself demonstrates a degree
of self-knowledge and is the easiest way to bring others along with you.
If you've read Amy Tan's books or listened to her speak you know she uses
humor to tell a story or make a point. Humor is also a great tension breaker
but inappropriate if used to belittle someone.
Find all these traits in one person and you are bound to see a leader.
If you have some but not all.....well that is what training is all about.
Which do you have? Which do you need to develop more of?
2007 Zimmerman Lehman.
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