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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

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)

Authentic Leadership: What it is & Why it's Important by Matt Gavin | Harvard Business School: Business Insights


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)

You Don't Have to Be CEO to Be a Visionary Leader by Ron Ashkenas and Brook Manville | Harvard Business Review


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)

The Power of Relational Leadership by John Coleman | Forbes

Minute With Maxwell: Leadership Starts With Relationship


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.

  1. Developing and empowering everyone,

  2. Improving the organization performance standards and results, and

  3. 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.

  1. Understanding customers/client needs

  2. Setting quality standards

  3. Measuring product quality

  4. Modifying the process to ensure improved results

Six Scholars Comparison: Stanford University - Notes on the works of six scholars on the concept of Quality

Most Leaders Don't Even Know the Game They're in by Simon Sinek


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.

Leadership is service by Josh Farr | TEDxMonashUniveristy


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.

PLDC developed an approved PIL course on the topic worth 40 credit hours. Contact us if you want to learn more about how you can bring Total Leaders to your district’s leadership team.

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