What are the Key Leadership Traits?
Are Great Leaders born or made? What leadership traits made them who they are?
Think about it for just a minute. And be honest with yourself.
And we are not talking about managers. Most managers mostly use inherited power and various forms of “persuasion”. We are talking about stone-cold, dyed-in-the-wool Leaders, that can inspire from the top floor. Or from across the globe.
Leadership traits and theories have been around for as long as groups of humans got together to fight wild animals or other groups. The world, thankfully, is different now and with a more egalitarian landscape we can better choose those we will anoint as our leaders.
We want to break down the leadership goal in a way that may help you. It may help you to one day become that leader or, at the very least, understand why you feel and act the way you do when a Leader-Follower bond is created. And you become a follower.
The Baggage Handling Leader
Legend tells of a legendary figure in Aviation by the name of Michael O’Leary. And this legend started back when Mr. O’Leary was not so well known. And his Airline – Ryanair – was still an upstart in the legacy airline business.
But he was already getting attention for the actions that pulled the legacy airline curtain back. To reveal the Wizards. And most people didn’t like it when he did that. Including me. You see I was a young mechanic and the mystique of Aviation, and its history, was what drew me in.
It was what made my chest stick out when people asked me what I worked at. I wasn’t at all happy for aviation to be revealed for what it was. A money business. One that could be solved.
Boy was I wrong.
Leadership Traits & Influence
The story also goes that Mr. O’Leary, every Saturday morning, could be found on the Ramp at Dublin Airport slinging bags onto Ryanair flights. Maybe he needed the exercise? or maybe he wanted to show the frontline staff that he wasn’t afraid to connect with them and muck in.
Or it was a stunt. Effective leadership, for which he would later become famous, in sometimes such cringey ways. A repeating trait that could make a millennial teenager fold into an alternate cringe dimension. But is Mr. O’Leary one of the great successful leaders?
Let’s try to measure him up.
Traits & Emotional Intelligence
Here are the Five Trait categories.
- The Work
The road to leadership in 2022 can be a fast one. If you are a technician and you figure out an API, or an RPA or an NFT that gets injected into the online ecosystem. Money will start spurting out and your backers or a private equity house will be etching your name in glass on your top-floor office door before lunch.
But you may not have had to lead or inspire before. Or even hold a zoom call. But with the moniker of CEO comes great leadership responsibility. And if you fail to deliver on our five effective leadership traits – your next AGM could be your last. Well, after the IPO that is.
Types of Leadership
Say your new company is an Airline. Just like Mike. It could be a new e-VTOL taxi service and Elon Musk just retweeted your latest design. Management just went from half a dozen guys in a hanger in Sweden to five hundred people across the globe. The key Management issues that need to be at the top of your list are.
- Direction – of the company. The strategic goal to be exact. But if you’ve got this far then you should have this trait down.
- Vision – Where direction is a practical milestone. Vision is the visualization of the company in its purest form. When you go to sleep at night this is the “end status” of your dreams.
- Risk – As a great leader you are not blinkered by anything. You know there are things in the long grass. Waiting for you to turn your back. But you are not seduced by noise – you have both eyes on reality and the goal.
- Adapt and Innovate – They used to call it a “pivot” back in the old days. The bad days will come, and leaders need to be ready to either flip 180 degrees or innovate their way out.
- The Big Picture – That’s your happy place. That’s where the effective leader lives. You don’t sit at your expensive PC coding. You are looking at the next cruising altitude and making sure the skies are clear.
Leadership Traits & Work
Yes, you will have Lieutenants, but they are just day management. You can delegate but you cannot “fire and forget” your instructions. And you had better create and deliver a common goal. For how work needs to get done. This is how:
- Clear Goals – You have set up the Gantt chart and you have made clear the tasks that need to be completed as well as their dependencies. All staff know their position.
- Knowledge – It is Stated and shared. It is clear. Everyone knows what’s going on and has some input. The “Yokoten” trait.
- Resources – There’s no point in creating goals if you don’t create the manpower and tools required to deliver. Things like support infrastructure, training or onboarding and financial budgets allocated.
- Remuneration – Clearly stated rewards for performance and delivery. You don’t need to threaten either. This should be implied. Through communication.
- Facilitation – Everyone has a way to work and deliver through the systems you have put in place. And there are clear reporting channels if they can’t. Again, communication.
Communication & Politics
As above – so below. You think that because you are CEO, you don’t need to be politically aware? Oof. Great leaders are shaped by their environment and continue to influence the world in constant change. Especially the people in it. Democratic leadership is the most challenging area you will face
- Awareness – You need to be a good reader. Not of books – but of people, relationships, cliques, and landscapes. One of the greatest leadership skills.
- Alliances – New, Old, and ongoing coalitions of people and groups are constantly cajoling, canvassing, and cooperating (or not) in your hope and dreams.
- Change Management – Change is everywhere. Direction. Production. Staff. Investors. You need to influence this well.
- Networking – As soon as you solve that union problem in materials, the effective leader gets on that zoom call with Fitch, who are concerned with the stock price given you’ve missed a milestone. You need to have that calm voice in the storm. A leader of Leaders.
- Clarity – When you look away, even for a second, the game-playing is going on. Ego’s flex and decision processes get passed around like pass-the-parcel. When the stakes are high, but the clarity is not there, it gives those people with political skills room to maneuver. In ways you don’t want.
Leadership Traits & Emotion
Honestly, I struggle here. This is one of my weaknesses. I can get hot-headed, and I make the wrong choices in times of stress. The best advice I ever got was to wait a day before responding to anything serious or career defining. Reflect.
You never, ever, ever, ever want to reply or respond immediately. Because it’s now driven only by emotion. Especially anger. You need time to allow other emotions and feelings inside.
Here’s the leadership characteristics you need to have.
- Emotional Intelligence – easier said than done. But with some soft skills training and some inward reflection this can be improved drastically in a short space of time. What you are trying to improve specifically is an understanding of the emotional intelligence states of others.
- Self-awareness – we are liars. All of us. Shameful, despicable liars. Great leaders too. But they work on self-awareness. They stop themselves mid-thought like Jung and say, “hold up brain!” And cast aside catastrophe, doom heralding and other damaging imaginations and other panic inducing emotions that cause us to lie.
- Empathy and Inspiration – Sympathy is hearing a story about a neighbor’s break-in and thinking “Crap, that’s awful. I feel bad for Karen”. Empathy is cooking a lasagna, taking it round to Karen’s, and sitting there silently while she speaks about her trauma.
- The Emotions of others – You are CEO and so you must deal with many emotions. You need to learn how to decipher executive management and manage them. You don’t “deal” with them. No, no, no. We don’t want you to manipulate or change these emotions. That’s impossible. Your job is to unveil the symptoms of that emotion and bring it to the surface. So, it can lay there on the table like a stone taken from a shoe. That’s what effective communication is.
Intelligence & Symbolism
This is tier one. The top shelf. This is Elon’s, Steve’s, Barack’s territory. And it’s simple.
They’ll start sentences with things like “I remember once when I was a kid…” or “There was once a lost Centurion in Germany.”. Then you know you are in the hands of a master leader. One who can influence.
- Stories – These types of leadership don’t give us laws, rules, or playbooks. They inspire with tales of the past and use the Hegelian dialectic to plant seeds in our minds where we connect the dots. Andrew Stanton of Pixar called this giving them “2 + 2 and having them arrive at the 4″. It’s how movies work. You see an interaction and remember a similar occurrence from your life. And you wish you had acted differently. Or ran away. Or kissed that girl before she ran away.
- Metaphor and Rhetoric – Democratic leadership uses examples from history steeped in meaning. And it better not be cheesy. You are using these real stories to create followers that are long lasting so the bond will be long lasting.
Types of Leadership
We don’t know if Michael O’Leary is a great leader. We’ve never met the man. But we know some of his followers and they are disciples for sure. Some of them even act like him. And have that same confidence. Because he delivers in all these areas. The man had an idea about how to simplify flying and went about creating a strategy. He created a roadmap for others to follow in his lead.
He traverses the most politically charged arena in the history of business, battling world regulators, lawmakers, pilot unions, Boeing, and the travelling public. And put himself out there to be held accountable and to wear silly outfits in secondary airports in the backs of beyond.
Emotionally there was no-one better. He wore his heart on his sleeve and he is always painfully honest and uncaring about the values of beliefs of others should they differ from his own. His ability to inspire through his actions alone is second to none. His biggest fan base is his shareholders.