At BarrettClark Executive Search, we are often mandated by clients to find them executives to support the development and success of a specific business. The skills and experience we are tasked to find are often very diverse……but the common theme is that we are always looking for someone who can inspire, motivate and lead teams. This got me thinking about what makes a “great leader” and what should we be looking for during our search process?
If you look back over history, you will find that some of the most famous and inspirational leaders, whether they are faced with a life or death situation, are growing a businesses or simply standing up for their beliefs, demonstrate a number of the following key traits.
- Team work - great leaders demonstrate the aptitude not only to build great teams, but also to get the very best out of them. In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton, one of the most famous polar explorers in history, led an ill-fated expedition to become the first to cross the Antarctic on foot but the expedition was cut dramatically short when their ship was trapped in pack ice. Despite being trapped for nearly two years, Shackleton’s inspirational leadership of forming the best and most competent teams to tackle each and every obstacle / challenge ensured that every member of the party lived to tell the tale.
- Passion - it might be possible to instil leader’s qualities into individuals, but a naturally driven leader will have real passion for their work and inspire those around them. Mohandas Gandhi was the political and ideological leader of India during the Indian independence movement. Despite being detained numerous times, his passion to protest continued until independence was duly granted.
- Integrity - is critical in today’s modern and competitive world of business. True leaders will never change their core / inner values, even when it might be difficult. Nelson Mandela had the belief and daring to fight against the structure of apartheid. Even when faced with 20 years in prison, he still held onto his beliefs of right and wrong.
- Confidence - is something that comes naturally to leaders. The very best ones however, will be able to develop self-confidence in others and build that to motivate teams. Steve Jobs was supremely confident in his capability and products that he took risky decisions and appointed individuals who also had complete confidence in reaching their goals.
- Patience - a true quality of an inspirational leader is to have the patience to ensure they achieve long term goals in the right way…..quick wins are not always the best strategic choice! Martin Luther King, despite a life lived under continual threat and danger had an impeccable quality of patience to work towards the eradication of racism across American society.
- Courage - great leaders will have the courage of their convictions and the ability to see it through. Nelson Mandela once said “Courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Becoming a great leader is a work in progress and a number of events throughout their lives will influence and shape the leader they eventually become. In addition to the above, another thing that all great leaders will have experienced is failure…..it is how they (and you) overcome that which shapes them in the future. Surely that is best summed up by the basketball great Michael Jordan who led the Chicago Red Bulls to three consecutive NBA titles on two separate occasions. “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”