7 Foundational Qualities of a Leader? Do you have them?


Some would argue you can narrow leadership down to one or two qualities and everything else is a function of the others.  As the United States prepares for (or endures) another Presidential Election year it is fair to say many of us will be questioning what makes the qualities of a leader pretty regularly over the course of this year.

I had the opportunity to hear Pat Williams speak a couple weeks ago at a breakfast hosted by the Accelerent group of Kansas City.  Pat is currently with the Orlando Magic, and he has been involved with professional teams since 1968, including a World Championship in 1983 with the 76ers.   He speaks regularly across the country and has authored over 100 books, many of them on the topic of leadership.

Mr. Williams shared his 7 Qualities of a Leader with the group that morning and we would like to in turn share them with you.

1) Vision helps you do three things.  A clear Vision keeps you Focused on the goals, Fueled and energized in your mission, and help see you through to the Finish.   It isn’t always easy being a leader. Vision helps keep your eye on the prize when setbacks and obstacles get in the way.

A powerful example is that of Martin Luther King, Jr.  His vision was….“a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”.

2) Communication.  Leaders must have excellent communication skills of they are going to share their vision.  Great leaders have the ability to speak in a way that everyone understands the message.  Leaders need to be clear, concise and correct.   And when you aren’t correct, you still own your decision.  Leaders must communication optimism and hope.   Would you rather be led by a pessimistic leader or an optimistic leader?  The answer is simple.   Some of the greatest leaders have been those who can speak clearly and inspire with their optimistic message.

3) People Skills.   Great leaders care about people.  They have empathy for people.  In order to demonstrate this, you must be visible and available.    Tom Peters famously called it MBWA: “Management by Walking Around.   You can’t lead if you spend 100% of your time locked in your office.  Great leaders are accessible to their team and their team knows they care. And when they know you care…they’re willing to run through walls for you.

4) Character.  There have been no shortages of examples that have tested this quality in the last few decades.  Personally I feel this one is the fundamental value that all the other qualities are built from.  Most value systems start with the ideas of Honesty and Integrity…and that’s a huge part of what Character is all about.  Leaders need to live and breathe Character.  It means taking responsibility in all matters both good and bad. And finally it means being humble. When you spend time with someone of high character, you normally leave them feeling better about yourself and you want to be a better person.  Pat Williams referenced experiencing this feeling after spending time with the late John Wooden, probably the most famous sports person in history.  Don’t under estimate the need for Character if you want to be an effective leader.

5) Competence.  You must be good at what you do. You don’t need to be the absolute best at everything, but you do need to be good at at least a few things. If you want to be a leader you have to stretch yourself and commit to being a lifelong learner.   You need to be a problem solver, be a good judge of talent, and be a teacher.  Leaders develop leaders.

6) Boldness.   Leaders have to make decisions.  They have to be able to quickly assess information and make something happen.  And once the decision is made they have to stand by their decision and not second guess themselves.  That doesn’t mean leaders don’t make poor decisions, but it means when they do they correct it as soon as possible and take responsibility for both the good and bad decisions.  When leaders are unable to make decisions, it cripples an organization.

7) Serving Heart.  Most of us have heard the term Servant Hearted Leadership, but Pat suggests the verb form of having a Serving Heart, because it denotes action.   With leaders who possess this type of mindset the impact is powerful.   They think in terms of  “It is never about me, it is about you”. “It is never for my benefit, it is for your benefit”   “It isn’t about advancing my career goals, it’s about advancing yours”  ”It isn’t about personal success, it’s about success of the organization.  Are you getting the picture?  The best leaders lead with a serving heart.

What do you think?  If you had to grade yourself on each of these 7 foundation qualities what kind of a score would you give yourself.  More importantly if you had your team grade you on each of these qualities what kind of score would that give you?    Are you sure?   It might be a great conversation to have with your staff.  After all, they are your future leaders and that’s what leaders do, they lead.

Thanks to Pat Williams for the content of this article and for sharing your message.  Please feel free to leave any thoughts in the space below.  We always value your comments and feedback.

Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach