OPINION: Thoughts on Being an Effective Leader

Being a leader is more that just holding a position or office. True leaders must exemplify a number of fundamental qualities.

Recently, I have been thinking about what it means to be an effective leader. How do we recognize that a particular individual has the qualities that are likely to make them good at moving an organization or a community forward? In order to answer this question, I have culled through the thoughts of a number of leaders. I offer the following as core traits that any person must exemplify, should they wish to be seen as a leader worth following.

1. "Don’t tell people how to do things; tell them what to do and let them surprise you with the results." General George S. Patton

I was somewhat surprised to find this quote from the World War II general known to his troops as "Old Blood and Guts." Perhaps even more so, the fact that the notion of getting out of people's way and letting them figure out how to get a job done came out of the mouth of a military commander, was fascinating to me. Good leaders know that there are multiple options for achieving success, and that those around them are just as likely to have solid approaches for getting a job done.

2. "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." President John Quincy Adams

J. Q. Adams knew that a noble character and stellar conduct in public affairs were valuable tools for a leader. The best leaders have the ability to motivate others on the basis of their unimpeachable motives for action. Making unreasonable demand of others, or trying to use fear as a motivator for action—in the long run—are not effective. As the old saying goes, "actions speak louder than words," and certainly go a long way toward motivating others in support of a worthwhile cause.

3. "Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable—and one of the least understood." Businessman Donald Trump

In business, a major component of sealing a deal is in understanding the needs of key stakeholders. The most straightforward way to accomplish this goal is to just sit and listen. A visionary leader knows that there is much to be gained by listening to the words of others, and not always being the one dominating the discussion. 

4. "A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be." First Lady Rosalynn Carter

In 1978, historian James Macgregor Burns put forth the concept of . He argued that the best leaders used this process by taking a visionary position and inspiring others to follow. Sometimes, the ideas put forward by a transformational leader may be controversial at first, perhaps even revolutionary. Over time, however, the exemplars of this approach are able to effectively show others that their vision represents the best course of action for all. Ultimately, a successful transformational leader is apt to effectively demonstrate each of the four traits highlighted above.


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