• Leadership in today’s world – the 5 differentiating qualities of a great leader
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Leadership in today’s world – the 5 differentiating qualities of a great leader

05 August 2021

Maryanne Carter, Partner, People Advisory |

In today’s well networked, high-performing, and ever-changing world, leadership touches on every aspect of an organisation - it’s at the centre of everything from driving high performance to building a stellar company culture. Companies are more likely to be successful if they are led by great leaders, so, how do you pick a great leader? What should you be looking for? Or how do you examine your own leadership style?

BDO’s People Advisory Partner, Maryanne Carter, discusses the five qualities that make up a world-class leader. While we could certainly write whole books on positive leadership qualities, these are the five that Maryanne has found which truly differentiate amazing leaders from good leaders.

Quality 1: Lead with a vision

A great leader must have a clear vision. And not only must they possess this vision, but they must be able to share it with others and align them to this central goal, helping them understand their role in achieving the objective.

A strong vision helps to show where an organisation is heading and provides the ‘why’ for people’s work. As a leader, you have to know where the company is going, and how to steer the course. When distractions or new opportunities come up, your vision will provide the focus required to keep moving forward without getting side-tracked.

Vision also provides motivation - it inspires people to keep on going, to stay focused on the end goal. Your vision must be strong enough to give meaning and purpose to carry you through to the end or else you may stop short of your goal.

Quality 2: Check your ego at the door

One thing Maryanne has seen in a lot of leaders is that leadership is more about them than anyone else. This is an ego problem, and while there are traits of ego that can be healthy, an over-inflated ego may trip you up.

What is an unhealthy ego?

It is an over-inflated sense of self, which can make a leader less willing to listen to others. Additionally, for me-centric leaders, it’s all about them – the attraction to be in the role is to be in the spotlight If something goes right, they stand up and take praise, whereas if it goes wrong, they point the finger elsewhere.

What is a healthy ego?

It is confidence but at an appropriate level. This confidence is also balanced with humility. A leader with a healthy ego is readily able to admit mistakes and learn from them. Indeed, they are committed to learning. They know they don’t know everything, and can step back, observe themselves, ask others for feedback and stay on track. They also recognise that if anything happens under their watch, it must be their responsibility - there’s a willingness here to accept blame.

People are more likely to want to work with a leader who is other-centric rather than me-centric and checks their ego at the door.

Quality 3: Become a servant leader

This is a progression of keeping your ego in check. Servant leaders focus primarily on the growth and the well-being of the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership in the past may have involved the accumulation and exercise of power by someone at the top of the pyramid, servant leaders are different - they share power, put others first, and help others develop and perform as highly as possible.

The role of a servant leader is to remove obstacles from the paths of others, help them be their best, and drive better performance for both individuals and the organisation as a whole. It’s a very powerful quality and creates a leader people are more likely to follow. They are far more likely to have employees who want to follow them, it’s a very powerful quality in any great leader.

Quality 4: Learn continuously

This quality is the single biggest predictor of whether or not someone will become a great leader. The world is constantly changing, and therefore people who have large amounts of learning agility are going to be better able to adapt - they will seek out and learn from unfamiliar experiences, and apply those lessons to succeed in a new situation.

Learning agility also helps a leader know what to do when they don’t know what to do. They are more likely to listen to people around them and are willing to be told they are wrong.

Surround yourself with smart people and be prepared to listen to them. You don’t have to second-guess your every decision, but you must be willing to take on feedback and understand that the knowledge journey never ends.

Quality 5: Be true to your values

Of all the qualities that underpin effective leadership, holding true to authentic values that bring about success is arguably the most important. People become effective leaders when they are rooted in what matters to them, and they are better equipped to deal with any situation that might arise.

Most people are drawn to values-based leaders because they are honest and congruent in their deeds, inspire those around them, and feel a greater sense of gratitude towards others than they expect to receive in return.

Additionally, leaders who are true to their values are more consistent in their decision-making - employees will be better able to understand why they are making certain calls.

BDO’s People Advisory team can work with you to improve your organisations leadership and drive talent management. To find out more about our services get in touch with our team.