Many people are tempted to believe that true leaders are born not made, but when it comes to leaders of historical importance, that adage rarely seems true. In many ways, leadership, as President John F. Kennedy noted, is indispensable from learning, which means every entrepreneur, pastor, community organizer, or team captain can improve their leadership skills by learning aspects of quality leadership that they then put into practice.
But what are the features of great leadership? What traits should be lived out and repeated? While the qualities associated with excellent leadership are often those that are the most obvious, the unexpected traits essential to effective leadership are where great leaders put their energies. Here is a closer look at six unexpected leadership traits that can all be put into practice by ordinary people.
The best leaders are those who truly believe in themselves and in what they are doing. Nestled near the intersection of self-confidence and self-esteem, self-belief is an internal quality that combines trust in one’s self and one’s abilities with a trust in the world as being the kind of place where what is desired can be achieved. Thankfully, it’s something that can be learned and achieved through intentional practice such as routinely remembering your accomplishments and meeting challenges.
2. Contagious Enthusiasm
Of course, it isn’t enough for a leader to believe in herself, she must also be able to compel others to believe in her. To that end, a great leader needs a contagious enthusiasm about her goals, work, and vision.
While some people have a natural charisma that inspires and motivates, others need to develop this and other leadership skills through advanced learning. But how does one go about developing and exhibiting contagious enthusiasm? Well, contagious enthusiasm starts with true and genuine enthusiasm — it’s an emotion that can’t be faked. By simply embodying the authentic emotion of fervor and passion for one’s work or goals, others will catch a hold of the same spirit.
It may not seem like vulnerability would be a trait exemplified by the world’s best leaders, but it often is. Vulnerability is the willingness and ability to show weaknesses to others. Far from being the Achilles’ heel it may appear to be at first glance, vulnerability in great leaders actually instills in followers an even greater sense of confidence, because it means they can be trusted to be real.
One of the more difficult traits to practice for many people, developing vulnerability is actually as simple as revealing something that could be considered embarrassing or less than impressive about one’s self to a trusted friend or confidante on a regular basis.
When someone is humble, he has a modest opinion of his own importance, which would seem, at first glance, to be at odds with leadership. However, humility in a leader creates an opportunity for that leader to shine a light on others whose work has been and is helpful to a cause or organization’s success.
Humble leaders are self-aware, appreciative, open to feedback, and they greatly value others, which makes sense because every great leader knows her success is only possible with the faith and efforts of others.
5. Times of Doubt
Great leaders experience times of doubt like everyone else, but they don’t respond to those times by sticking their heads in the sand or giving up. Instead, great leaders use times of doubt to hone their goals and methods. They listen to criticism, because if it’s deserved, they want to learn from it in order to do a better job in the future.
In short, great leaders let their times of doubt teach them how to become better people. Without doubt and the threat or actuality of failure, great leaders wouldn’t exist.
Likeability isn’t the same thing as always being liked, which is a good thing because the best leaders have to sometimes make unpopular decisions. Likeability is rather about the leader himself and his ability to be fair, amicable, and respectful of others even in difficult circumstances.
The best leaders are those whose toughest critics still think highly of their person and character. Being a person who is likeable requires that a person practice honesty and justice in all matters, even when those matters are unpleasant or cost him personally.
Great leaders are made, not born, and if you hope to be one someday, practice these six traits.