the 5 defining attributes of a strong leader

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Last month, I came across a paper on Talent Magnets and creating an irresistible culture. While I wasn’t surprised to see leadership as a main magnet, I did mull over it for a few days. We have been talking about leadership for a long time and it seems like the most obvious talent magnet that exists. Who wouldn’t want to work with the likes of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet? However, despite having held our attention for ages, we are still not very good at developing timeless leaders. Even worse, we struggle when it comes to defining the attributes that a leader should possess. So, it felt but obvious that I spend some time putting together my thoughts on what makes a great leader. Consider them the five golden pearls of wisdom if you must.

1. A leader bets against consensus and is often right

This is hard. Both of these are difficult individually. Put together, they become ten times more difficult. You know what helps – a clear vision, making painful mistakes and learning from them. It requires the ability to solve puzzles, balance audacity and an algorithm to test beliefs. Which brings me to the next point.

2. A leader works to disconfirm his beliefs

A leader continuously asks himself – ‘How do I know my opinion is right?’ Call it ‘objectivity maintenance’ or stress testing an opinion. Leaders pay special attention to disconfirming opinions and surround themselves with diverse perspectives. They understand that they may not know best. They also know that collective decision-making is better than individual decision making if done right.

3. A leader encourages radical transparency

Of course, it makes no sense to surround yourself with the brightest and most diverse minds if they can’t voice their opinion. Most great leaders advocate radical transparency and with good reason. Irrespective of role, age, and tenure, leaders encourage open honest conversations. They do not shy away from uncomfortable conversations and enjoy receiving and delivering feedback.

4. A leader knows when and how to appeal to interest

There are of course ways to deliver feedback as well as get things moving. The only question that ultimately matters is ‘What’s in it for me?’ Great leaders know exactly how to answer this question and when to leverage it. It would be great if terms like ‘moral duty’ and ‘responsibility’ worked, however, we know it is rarely as effective as appealing to interest. Watch any effective leader and you will notice them wield this skill like a deft swordsman.

5. A leader is a continuous learning machine

As Charlie Munger says – ‘Wisdom acquisition is a moral duty.’ I couldn’t agree more. The only way to be successful is to keep learning not just to be successful in your career but across multiple fields. In an age where things are changing more rapidly than ever before, this quality is all the more crucial.

The most important bit however is tucked away in this paragraph. Different leaders appeal to different individuals. I would encourage you to perform a little analysis to find the top qualities that appeal to you. First, gather a list of 50 individuals who you consider as great leaders. For each one of them, list the qualities that made them eligible for entry into the list. Step 3 comprises of you finding the commonalities in attributes. Put together the attributes that emerge and ask yourself if those attributes put together in a person would result in a great leader.  Then ask yourself if leadership is unique to each individual or is it a set list of attributes. I would be curious to know your results.

Before I end, there is a bit more. Don’t work for someone you do not admire. It is the biggest career-limiting move you can make. Find someone you would like to emulate and find ways to work with them. It is possible. Maybe not immediately but you can make it happen with a few wise moves. Make it your life’s mission to only work under people you absolutely admire.

P.S: This post was first published here.


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