What Are the Qualities of Effective Leaders?

In his recent blog post on Decoding Leadership, business author and consultant Norm Smallwood laments that if you ask 30 leadership development experts to define leadership, you get 31 different answers. To make his point he recounts an experience meeting with a group of senior executives and asking the question: “What are qualities of effective leaders?” Here’s a partial list of their responses:

Authentic, Transparent, Emotional intelligence, Interpersonal effectiveness, Servant-leader, Humility, Leaders not managers, Know contingency theory by mapping response to situation, Live the 7 Habits, Build a vision, Ensure customer centricity

It was this type of experience that lead Smallwood, together with co-authors Dave Ulrich and Kate Sweetman to write Leadership Code: Five Rules to Lead By.  In their new book, the authors identify what they believe are some commonalities among all of the leadership theories out there today.  See if you agree:

Rule 1: Shape the future. This answers the question “where are we going?” Great leaders make sure that those around them understand the direction the company is moving in.

Rule 2: Make things happen. Turn what you know into what you do.

Rule 3: Engage today’s talent. Talent managers know how to identify, build and engage talent to get results now.

Rule 4: Build the next generation. Ensure that the organization has the longer-term competencies required for future strategic success.

Rule 5: Invest in yourself. Effective leaders cannot be reduced to what they know and do. Who they are as human beings has everything to do with how much they can accomplish with and through other people.

Do you have any other suggestions or ideas when it comes to effective leadership? Tell us what you think!

5 thoughts on “What Are the Qualities of Effective Leaders?

  1. Most leadership experts can’t agree on what leadership is. Even the dictionary is of little help – it defines leadership as “Leadership: “the capacity to Lead.” – not much help there.

    Perhaps all the confusion arises because at is core, Leadership is instinctual. Leadership is about responding to a critical need at an exact situational monent. Great leadership creates unity and action

  2. I would agree that there are many definitions of leadership; however one that I have come to appreciate the definition as found in J.G. Clawson’s 2009 book, “Level Three Leadership: Getting Below the Surface, 4th Ed.”. Clawson says on page 26, “Leadership is the ability and the willingness to influence others so that they respond voluntarily”. I really appreciate the use of the word voluntarily here, it speaks so much as to some of the qualities that one must have to motivate another individual to follow you without pressure.

  3. As Steven said, there are many definitions on what leadership is, almost as many as authors investigating leadership. It is obviously because there are different leadership styles that could be effective or desirable in different circumstances (i.e. socio-economic context, organizational culture, follower competencies, type of challenge, etc.).

    I always say yes when I see a list of proposed competencies. The problem is that the list is endless, so the question of which ones are the most important I think depend on too many variables for us to agree on.

    It seems to me that is not so much about what is or is not effective leadership, or which are the list of most desirable competencies, but how can people DEVELOP the necessary competencies (knowledge, skills and attitudes)to be effective in their environment and with respect to their goals and challenges.


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