What Makes a Leader?

September 14, 2012
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We can never talk enough about the concept of leadership, and I know that many of those bloggers who contribute to Healthworks Collective, and many of our readers, are already great leaders, or certainly aspire to become such.

Leadership is essential if organizations and countries are to thrive. But leadership is also important in families, churches and in any collection of people that have a shared purpose.

We can never talk enough about the concept of leadership, and I know that many of those bloggers who contribute to Healthworks Collective, and many of our readers, are already great leaders, or certainly aspire to become such.

Leadership is essential if organizations and countries are to thrive. But leadership is also important in families, churches and in any collection of people that have a shared purpose.

Over the years in my career, I have observed that highly regarded managers or leaders have a common set of attributes, behaviors and qualities. Here is what I’ve observed, and if your staff or your colleagues can use any of these terms to describe what you do, then chances are you’re leading them well.

Leaders are:

  • Good mentors and coaches.
  • Approachable and genuinely caring.
  • Able to explain complex issues and often complex and difficult approaches to addressing them.
  • Knowledgeable about the field and the issues facing the group.
  • Willing to give their staff a lot of breathing room, they do not micro-manage.
  • Flexible.
  • Creative, and willing to search for approaches to problems that are faster, more efficient and more effective.
  • Focused on the business needs to be addressed and the approaches that can be used to address those needs.
  • Happy to collaborate with others.
  • Strong champions for their area of expertise but able to understand the needs and challenges faced by their colleagues.
  • Good at finding effective compromises.
  • Decisive.
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Some traits resonate beyond simple leadership and should guide what we do every day. We should aspire to be smart, honest, hardworking, focused, good communicators, upbeat, responsive and thoughtful.

Ed Marx, chief information officer, of Texas Health Resources, had similar, moving thoughts about leaders that were recently posted to an industry blog; I encourage you to check them out.

The expansive volume of books on the topic of leadership emphasizes its importance. And, the fact that there are so many books (and new ones all of the time) indicates that leadership is a complex topic and an elusive target. There may never be a time when we can conclude that we understand fully what it takes to be a leader. Leadership is similar to love – a very complicated part of humanity that is difficult to obtain and even harder to retain.

And, I cannot stress this point enough: for those of you still early in your careers, you should know that leadership is not confined to the senior levels of an organization. There is great value in leadership at all levels of an organization. It doesn’t matter whether you have a zillion people reporting to you or no one. There is a need for collaboration, honesty, responsiveness and the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes; a need that knows no boundary of title or roles.