What are the Essential Qualities of Successful Leaders?
Updated: Sep 2, 2022
I've been considering the question, what are the essential qualities of successful leaders? Although I've read the equivalent of a small library of leadership books about the topic, I keep coming back to my favorite book on the subject of leadership. Charles Schwahn's and William Spady's Total Leaders: Applying the Best Future Focused Change Strategies to Education published in 1998. Although the original Total Leaders book is no longer in print, it can still be found on Amazon, or you can get a copy of Total Leaders 2.0 published in 2010.
Schwahn's and Spady's book represents the best thinking of authorities on leadership. The authors provide profiles of successful leaders' mindset, purpose, focus, change beliefs, and performance roles in five areas. I first met Dr. Schwahn in 1999; since then, I've been privileged to collaborate with Charlie, my mentor, and friend.
In this blog post, I share several relatively recent resources for each of the five leadership domains described in Total Leaders (authentic, visionary, cultural, Quality and service). I recommend that you review only one domain per day over the next two weeks. Don't try to digest everything in one sitting; spend some time thinking about the domain and what it means to you.
Authentic Leadership: Day 1
Leadership starts with and revolves around the authenticity of the leader. It is the moral and psychological character of the leader that influences every strand of the organization. Authentic leaders are masters of personal meaning and purpose. There is nothing pretentious or artificial about them. Their essence is value-based and personally grounded. (pg.35)
The author lists five characteristics of authentic leaders.
They're Committed to Bettering Themselves
They Cultivate Self-Awareness
They Inspire Faith
I followed Brené Brown and read all of her books. Although she is best known for her work around vulnerability, I believe most of what she talks and writes about can be given the label of being authentic. If you can't find the time to read the book, you can get an overview of the book's contents from a CBS interview video, where she says vulnerability is the only path to courage.
Notice what Brené says about leading by weaponizing uncertainty and finding someone to blame. Not meant to be a political statement, just an observation! Although these practices can effectively gain positional power, it is not substantial. I wonder how this practice might be applied to past and current political leaders?
Visionary Leadership: Day 2
The essence of visionary leaders is paradigm-breaking imagination and innovation. They excel at creating novel possibilities that others don't see, chart new directions and destinations for their organizations, and thrive on translating shifts and trends into productive options for organizational transformation. They turn issues and problems inside out and upside down before declaring a preferred course of action, and they never mindlessly opt for the way they've always done things before. (pg. 51)
The authors recognized the importance of visionary leadership at all levels of the organization, not only for the organization's success but as a fundamental skill of leading. If you are not the CEO, here are their recommendations to get experience in shaping the vision.
Helping the CEO to Shape the Vision
Making the Vision Relevant for Your Team
Catalyzing Your Vision
The authors did not put it this way, but I believe the following four tips listed are ways to catalyze your vision.
Get clear on what a vision is and why it matters.
Watch for different kinds of opportunities to contribute.
Don't build a vision alone.
Learn by watching and studying other vision-building.
John Maxwell identifies four important "thoughts" about visionary leadership in this brief video. 1) Think bigger! 2) When you are with big people, they make you feel big! 3) Visionaries influence people! 4) Visionaries see more and see it before others!
Cultural/Relational: Day 3
The authors switched from the Cultural Leadership domain in the original Total Leaders book to the Relational Leader domain in Leadership 2.0. I remember asking Dr. Schwahn about the switch, and he told me that he and Bill (Spady) felt the relational title better conveyed the domain's context. We all can agree that building positive relationships is at the center of successful leadership. The Quality and consistency of cultural leaders' relations with others are critical in determining how well the other four domains of Total Leadership are carried out and how strongly they motivate organizational members to involve and invest themselves in the organization's change efforts. (pg.67)
This article is one of six-part series on leadership lessons from presidents. The article focuses on President George H.W. Bush's relational approach to leadership. The author provides an example of President Bush's core values and personality revolved around building relationships. Colemans provides some thoughts on how to cultivate relationships. The following is my take-away sentence from reading the article. Relational leadership can be incredibly successful, mainly when it is authentic, empathetic, reinforced through gestures of friendship and embed in the culture of a team." (John Coleman)
Minute With Maxwell: Leadership Starts With Relationship
Another John Maxwell video, and I recommended this video in a previous issue of Leadership Thoughts! John Maxwell conveys his message about being a good leader so simply. Influence, nothing more, nothing less! Start with relationships and love your people!
Quality Leadership: Day 4
"You can't measure Quality – Quality is an output. You can only manage systems.
- Edward Deming
"Quality leadership focuses on improving personal and organizational productivity and excellence and stimulating employees to grow and develop as people. There are three performance roles of a quality leader.
Developing and empowering everyone,
Improving the organization performance standards and results, and
Creating and using feedback loops to improve performance. (pg.26-27)
"…quality leaders openly endorse, consistently model, and exemplify the core values of excellence and productivity and the professional principles of accountability and improvement. (pg. 91)
Caution! There is a tendency to confuse quality leadership with the qualities that make good leaders. For our purpose, quality leadership is about developing organizational and staff capacity to change and improve. Quality leaders adhere to the four keys of quality assurance.
Understanding customers/client needs
Setting quality standards
Measuring product quality
Modifying the process to ensure improved results
I included this document as recommended reading because it offers a brief look at how six scholars define Quality. As you read the notes, think about how a personal and organizational quality leader might utilize these notes. I also recommend that you google the names of each scholar to understand their contribution to the quality movement better.
Most Leaders Don't Even Know the Game They're in by Simon Sinek
This Simon Sinek video aligns with the performance roles. If you choose to watch this excellent 35-minute video, look for examples of quality leadership. Think about how empathy, as described by Sinek, can be applied to the performance roles.
Service Leadership: Day 5
Service leadership is about being "in service" to the organization's declared purpose and vision." (pg. 104) Service leaders design and execute the organization's productive change process. Service leaders, (1) ask what needs to be done to support the work of others, (2) cultivate the desire to contribute for everyone to do their best, and (3) remove obstacles to the change. They orchestrate the transition of the vision into reality.
I recommend reading this article because of the following two reasons. The author points out "Service Leadership" is different from Servant leadership. Servant leadership is about serving those in the organization, and service leadership is about better serving the customer or the learner. Second a diagram created by David Cobb called the "Broken Triangle." I know I am applying a liberal interpretation of the Broken Triangle, but it works for my purpose. That is to say that when individuals work together, the organization is successful, and there is an increase in personal satisfaction.
This young man provides seven steps to becoming a service leader with real-life experiences. Think about whether this speaker models service leadership and answer the question, what gift can you share with another?
Internal Locus of Control
Although this edition of “Leadership Thoughts” is much longer than the previous issues, I hope you stuck with it and completed your study about the five domains of leadership.