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The second part in the series: Qualities of a good leader!

So in the last article, we discussed the qualitative aspects of leadership. Now we will discuss and describe the qualities of a great leader.

It's very difficult to typecast leaders or clearly articulate the qualities that describe them. But we will attempt to identify common traits that most leaders exhibit.

From time immemorial - whether it be based on scriptures, mythology, stories, history or otherwise, we have read and re-read about leaders and their specialities. So what makes leaders who they are?

In my assessment (a big word though but will nevertheless use it), leaders don't get made with some off-the-shelf recipes. Instead, they start as ordinary people who have or who have had strong beliefs in their convictions.

Whether it be greatness discovered (like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi or Gautam Buddha) or greatness thrust and endured (like the Moghul King Akbar or the Great King Raja Raja Chozha), almost all of them remained true to their convictions. Right or wrong, they were steadfast in their beliefs and convictions that people accepted them as great leaders. So one can argue: "can anyone with just a conviction become a leader like that?". The answer is NO.

The convictions and beliefs that are preceded by a cause have to be larger than life. So a cause is required to create the focal point to bring the convictions to life. These causes can be situations presenting themselves or ones emanating out of a deep sense of self-realisation (whether right or wrong).

So the first quality of a leader is that they are driven by a cause(s) or a purpose(s)!

Sun light filtering through a tree
1. Driven by a higher purpose

As I have explained in my earlier post anyone can exhibit leadership qualities but need not necessarily be a good leader. But anyone who is worth his weight of salt and calls himself a leader needs to exhibit some of the leadership qualities as explained in that article.

However, these individuals are driven by a higher purpose in life. One may debate whether their purposes are higher than is generally understood or are very high that no one else found them and only these people did due to some inner calling.

Re-iteration of their mantra of success towards their cause is the second quality of a leader.

Follow me
2. Keep reiterating the purpose to self and to everyone else

So much so that all of them without exceptions keep reiterating their message about their cause/purpose almost always. While we may not agree, the same is true for some of the terrorist (leaders) too (without naming any) for they appear to be even more committed to their causes than normal leaders. One can always debate whether we indeed can call all of these anti-socials as leaders but how else will we explain their followers and what these leaders are able to do / achieve with their followers. Re-iterating the purpose more often than is needed requires a strong belief system and a conviction about their abilities and the abilities of the people around them (or simply put their followers).

The third quality (that kind of runs as a thread across almost all Leaders) is whether they remain truthful to their cause even if they are faced with challenges or even if they make mistakes.

I am the truth
3. Remain truthful to their cause or purpose

They (these leaders) become synonymous with their causes that they become the truth for the cause. The world is full of wonderful examples of great leaders who cannot be removed from their causes.

The key point to note is that they bring course corrections to their path and make those corrections part of their narratives (and their stories) and always remain truthful to their cause or purpose. If someone changes the cause or purpose mid-way that's where they face their litmus tests - moments of truth!

Now comes the question of how this pans out in corporates. Let's take the case of Twitter, the ousted CEO (Parag Agarwal) was committed to his cause despite the hostile environment. The question is not about whether he was right or wrong the question was more about being truthful to one's purpose and this to me is a mark of a leader.

At some point there is always bound to be a conflict between the actual higher good and the egotistical commitment to the cause which leaders believe is higher good. Wading through such situations in a clear manner is also a definitive moment in leadership.

Let's take another example of Martin Luther King. He was a Civil Rights Leader in the United States of America that organised and led marches for blacks' right to vote, labour rights, and other basic civil rights. He has delivered some vary famous speeches (some even iconic) to drive the social change the United States of America, in a non-violent manner. The key (and defining) leadership aspects was his perseverance and his ability to reiterate the purpose despite all the threats to his life.

Taking tough (and may be unpopular) decisions to make or achieve their cause is one of the highlight qualities of a leader. Its the fourth important quality in a leader.

Watch Dog
4. Taking tough decisions to stay on course to achieve their cause

Leaders invariably have to take tough decisions all the time when they believe those decisions will positively impact their cause. Whether it be letting go of resources, or reversing some important decisions already taken by them, or anything else that will help them further their cause, leaders are almost paranoid about their cause. They usually remain vigilant and ensure that no one trespasses in their path towards achieving their cause. These tough decisions need not necessarily be democratic and favourable to all. The important aspect and the most definitive quality still remains that they remain grounded, humane and professional in their approach.

The classic example is that of teachers that teach students in institutions around the world. When they want their class to succeed they take certain decisions which may be stringent on the class, or on certain set of students, but will be overall beneficial to all students.

Another example to drive home the point is from marine insurance. In marine insurance there is something called as the perils of Jettison. It's the intentional throwing overboard of part of the cargo or some piece of the ship in order to save the ship or its cargo. Virtually all ocean marine policies cover the perils of jettison. A leader in any situation is like the captain of the ship (who decides this jettisoning) and he takes these decisions to keep his ship from sinking. Remember whenever jettison occurs, all the stakeholders are to bear equal losses in case of a damage to any shipment regardless of whose goods they were. So a great leader ensures that any collateral damage is equally borne by everyone in the journey.

The last (and the fifth) quality of a leader is that they almost always celebrate success with their followers while taking blame for failures themselves.

5. Celebrate success together with the team while individually owning up to any failures

While it is easily said then done, great leaders always celebrate with their teams. They share the spoils with all (though may not be equally). However when it comes to failures, they are the face to the world. The real problem is not the how? or the what? (to celebrate). The problem that most leaders face is when (to celebrate or when to accept failures)? They always get the timing wrong.

A good leader is so empathetic to the environment that they know when to celebrate success and when to accept a failure. They always make life lot easier for themselves and for those around them. Many a time we observe that the celebrations come too early or too late that people are almost forgotten. This is what great leaders avoid for they are grounded and they exactly know when what is to be done and also how it is to be done?

To summarise the qualities of a good leader:

  1. They are driven by a higher purpose.

  2. They keep reiterating the purpose to self and to everyone else more frequently, and in all forums and with all the methods available to them.

  3. They remain truthful to their cause or purpose even when faced with challenges. They may do course correction but never waver from the purpose they have chosen.

  4. They take tough decisions to stay on course to achieve their cause. If they hindrances or obstacles in their path they remove them without the fear of consequences but in a humane way.

  5. They celebrate success together with the team at the right time while individually owning up to any failures that would occur.

If you or your team want more clarity or mentoring on how to become a qualitative leader, reach out to us today at

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