Effective leadership characteristics

Intro (just a rough outline)

– Transformational vs transactional (here I’m thinking to say something along the lines of “when evaluating leadership characteristics, the team identified more with transformational leadership”

– Our group used ranking to decide order in which we would prioritize (Exhibit 1 – does the team want to include this?)

– Effective leadership has many characteristics that make it what it is, but we’ve narrowed down the list after tough debates and inspirational personal experiences.

Effective Leadership Characteristics

Visionary – Ranked First

To be an effective leader, our team believes that being a visionary is the most important characteristic. The team went through various different words with a similar tone, such as “strategist”, “innovative”, and “a thinker with depth and breadth”, but none of them encompassed such a broad meaning as visionary did. Being a visionary encompasses all of the above key descriptors and includes the ability to think ahead in a manner that is neither rash nor unrealistic. Having vision gives clarity to the integral processes that follow the vision during implementation. Our team examined previous class discussions on transformational leadership and having a vision was a key aspect that was critical in order to successfully fulfill other leadership requirements. For example, being a good communicator is definitely an advantage; however, without a vision, the information communicated is questionable. This is why we ranked it first.

Competency – Ranked Second

The team initially had varied opinions about competency because of our diverse perceptions of what being competent really means. Some perceived it as unnecessary as leaders who have vision can align their followers and make them accountable for achieving the vision. Others perceived competency as more than that – they viewed it as a characteristic that is not only technical – but also involves knowing what steps to take in order to achieve the vision and how to effectively communicate those steps. Nevertheless, technical competency is of instrumental value as it increases efficiency due to the breadth and depth of knowledge. Other rational that served vital in convincing the rest of the team was that having competence increases one’s self-confidence, helping them to better motivate and articulate their position.

Communicator – Ranked Third

Being an outstanding communicator is essential to being an effective leader. The entire team was aligned with making this a core characteristic of effective leaders. The discussion highlighted the need to firstly communicate the vision and subsequently, to maintain a flow of information around the organization. The team discussed how when this was done in our personal experiences, we felt more involved and important in the company. One key point of reference for us was the class discussion on transformational leadership. Within all four aspects (idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration), communication was either directly or indirectly a factor in being able to successfully be a transformational leader.

Motivational – Ranked Fourth

A term that we feel is related to being a good communicator is being motivational. We believe they go hand-in-hand. Our reasoning for selecting “motivational” was because in order to achieve the vision, a leader must align his or her followers – one person is often not enough. The group spoke about several different characteristics related to motivational that we also wanted to include on the list; however, while short-listing, we came to the conclusion that several of those were related to being a motivational leader. For example, the team brainstormed “inspiring” as a characteristic. Although this is a distinctive quality to have in a leader, we felt that being motivational was the appropriate term because, in a business context, it relates to stimulating one’s interest in the vision while we saw inspirational as invoking a more general sense of desire to accomplish something. The team also saw a motivational leader as one who will create more leaders and this is essential in today’s business environment as it has been said that many organizations are over-managed, but under-led.

High Integrity – Ranked Fifth

The team was divided on whether or not to include integrity in the characteristics of effective leaders. Some of the team was concerned with the fact that leaders who have committed unethical deeds (i.e. the executives of the Enron scandal) did not have integrity yet were still effective in being successful prior to the scandal. We spoke in great detail about the article “Leadership – Warts and All”, and although we found many of the points to be intriguing; some of the team members were inundated with questions like “are we setting our standards too low? Should we not expect honesty and integrity?” We had thoughts surrounding the idea that “it is okay to fail, and you should not compromise your values in the name of success”. The others brought up the class discussion on the first day when we spoke about leadership not having the classification of good or bad but the members for integrity highlighted that it depends on perception. Those who followed Adolf Hitler believed he had integrity. More of the team was convinced, but there was still hesitation because according to them, “leadership is not a moral concept” (Kellerman, 2004, p. 5) – being an effective leader has nothing to do with your values. The turning point was our discussion about the topic of leaders that lack integrity but are high on charisma; the “Danger Zone”.Questions that were raised within the group circled around “although the leader could be effective, how long could he or she sustain leadership before their low integrity was publicized?” Examples of this include the leaders of Enron or Nortel – after the scandals, their leadership was completely overthrown and their credibility was no more. If one does not have credibility, how will he or she attract followers?

Empathy – Ranked Sixth

The team spoke about empathy in great detail. We were heavily inclined to say “no” to empathy being a top characteristic, however there were two that felt strongly about it. The discussion revolved around what the true definition of empathy is – is it related to the way you communicate to people, knowing their situation or is it a feeling that you have when you understand another’s circumstances? We answered it by giving real-life examples of how empathy is a characteristic that is more than communication. A personal experience within the team was one that many individuals face as part of an organization. Our teammate had fallen ill one day and telephoned his manager to let him know that he was unwell. The manager, showing a lack of empathy, instructed him to come into work anyway. The manager failed to put himself into our teammate’s shoes and this negatively affected his perceived leadership style. The teammate felt more and more disengaged, almost resentful towards his manager. An example from a team member who had a great experience was about how his manager was empathetic towards the specific direction in which he wanted to go. He would take the time to understand our teammate’s future aspirations and would make it his duty to seek out the most relevant projects. In another real life experience, the manager would take the time to understand the diverse culture of his team so that he would be more empathetic to the differences surrounding them. These experiences were a catalyst to emphasize the fact that empathy was a definite characteristic of effective leaders amongst our team.

Passionate – Ranked Seventh

In all great leaders there is a purpose and intensity. To our team, passion is an internal and self-generated tool.  Effective leaders should have the ability to concentrate on their purpose, motivate not only themselves but also their followers to the common purpose. Their attitude sets the mood for everyone around them and their followers get excited if the leader is excited. There was a general consensus within the team for passionate to be one of the main characteristics. The feeling was solidified even more with a personal example of an effective team lead who was extremely passionate about his work in software coding. The team lead would spend his own time learning more about coding. He would share his findings with the team in a manner that was both exciting and intriguing. Both his work and the team’s work were positively influenced because of the authentic passion this leader shared.

Becoming a More Effective Leader

Building a Transformational Leader

During our analysis, we discovered that these characteristics are dependent on each other in order to be effective. Leaders with a vision need to be able to communicate that vision passionately in order to align their followers. In “Leadership for Extraordinary Performance”, Joseph DiStefano highlights the need for the visionary to express “personal confidence and enthusiasm” (DiStefano, 2000, p. 1). Leading your organization with passion is extremely important when communicating the vision. It seems as though a leader without vision, passion and communication is an ineffective leader, while a leader that has a high degree of all three is a motivational leader (refer to Exhibit 2a). He or she has a consistent vision in mind, and is able to communicate that vision effectively with enthusiasm which is a critical step in aligning your followers and motivating them to achieve the vision. The story discussed above about the leader who was so passionate about coding was not the only attribute that made him the best leadership experience for our teammate. He was able to see ahead and know what the team needed to do before anyone else did – this is what differentiated him from the rest of the team. Team 423 argues that if you have passion and are able to communicate that to your colleagues, you are an engaged team member. It is your ability to be a visionary in addition to those that makes you a leader.

In combination with the above characteristics, we feel that leadership is also dependent on one’s competencies. If a leader has vision, communication skills and passion but no competency, he or she is ill-equipped to be effective (refer to Exhibit 2b). One of our team members worked under a CEO of a small company. The CEO was a former salesman and his interests were only focused on increasing sales and not building customer loyalty or providing adequate support. He had a vision of using the product’s uniqueness in the industry to market it to customers; he had the communication skills and passion to both inform and align his employees; however the company suffered as time went on because he did not factor in the customer relations aspect of the business. His lack of knowing what to do to be successful led the company to many reports with the Better Business Bureau and constant customer complaints to the head office.

Building on our illustration of how these characteristics are dependent upon each other, we proceed to analyze motivational and empathetic. Although motivational was touched upon with communication, the team feels that it is also separate because of the need for individualized consideration. We are speaking about these characteristics not in terms of broadly aligning employees, rather in terms of providing them to employees based on their own set of unique strengths and weaknesses. A leader without empathy and motivation becomes a “power wielder” (Kellerman, 2004, p. 3) given that he or she has the other characteristics we have discussed (refer to Exhibit 2c). Being a more effective leader means, as Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones put it, “giving people what they need, not what they want” (Goffee & Jones, 2000, p. 7). Effective leaders are genuinely concerned with what their employees’ aspirations are and will point them in the right direction even if it means communicating areas of weakness. While pointing out the weakness, the leader should also motivate the employee to improve and achieve his (her) goal. When a leader has all these characteristics, we believe that he (she) is very close to becoming what we believe, is an effective transformational leader.

Nevertheless, how good are all of these characteristics if the leader cannot uphold them? Once the leader’s integrity is broken, his (her) characteristics are no longer legitimate. The fundamental vision which was so necessary becomes a fraud. The leader that has all the above characteristics cannot be exhibiting a true display of being a visionary (refer to exhibit 2d). Staying true to your vision, or in other words, leading by example, is undermined when a leader does something that is inconsistent with their values or vision. The team also feels that there is a lack of genuine motivation and empathy for the employees and this leads us to believe that an effective leader with low integrity is really a pseudo-transformational leader.One of our teammates had an experience where his manager would display all of the positive characteristics we have spoken about to his own managers, however, the reality was he was taking credit for successful projects and blaming others for failed initiatives. The display of leadership, in this case, was false and it served to undermine his leadership ability to our team member. On the contrary, a leader with all characteristics is a full and effective transformational leader.

Leveraging Natural Strengths

Some leaders are naturally stronger in one characteristic, and they leverage that to be more effective. (Can someone think of an example to put in here Made up or real is fine) Leaders who lack technical knowledge can benefit from leveraging their other strengths. Relying and trusting your employees to use their expertise you may not have empowers them and is a vital aspect in creating more leaders. We are in accord with Goffee and Jones when it comes to revealing select weaknesses to establish trust, collaboration, and solidarity.

While leveraging natural strengths is something the team believes should be done, a leader should be looking to continuously improve. In class we discussed effective leaders who may not be comfortable speaking in public, and saw how one leader drastically improved his skills by joining a Toastmasters Club. We are also increasingly seeing more managers in training programs to increase their competencies in new technologies and methodologies.

Using These Characteristics to Differentiate Leaders from Managers

The team’s analysis also revealed distinguishing factors between leaders and managers. We found that managers and workers relate more to the day-to-day work and tend not to think about the long-term strategy or vision of the organization and therefore, some processes that should be maximized to achieve long-term gains are completed to attain short term success. Through our personal experiences, we also found that they are more focused on performance rather than development and improvement. A visionary leader attaches the skills of his (her) team in to a vision, incorporating performance into team development and advancement while placing importance on both long-term and short-term strategies.

“Leaders motivate people; managers manipulate assets” (Cuneo, 2005). How can managers be better leaders by motivating their employees? In all of our positive personal experiences, motivation was a key aspect. Being motivational does not need to mean inspiring a crowd of five hundred. Instead, the team appreciated open-door communication and individualized inspiration through words of encouragement when we failed, and recognition when we succeeded. We specified leaders who guided us in the right direction instead of telling us the exact move. Beginning with a simple “good job, you’re almost there!” or “I know you can do it, let’s try that again” proved to be effective and meaningful.

According to Level 5 Leadership, a manager is described as competent, but not a leader.Our team interpreted this as a technically competent manager who lacks the softer characteristics such as empathy, vision, motivation, and etcetera. Competency is a necessary requirement for an effective manager; however it is not the foremost characteristic a manager can possess. In class, we discussed how Level 5 Leadership can be seen in any level on the pyramid. Many people possess humility and professional will at all levels – it is something that transcends your leadership capabilities.

Improving Leadership in Business Today

In today’s business world, several new issues have come into play and the leadership characteristics we discussed are relevant to the times we face at the present. In class, we spoke about multi-generational workforces, ethics, and diversity. The team will briefly discuss how each one of these issues can be positively affected by leadership.

The multi-generational workforce we face today goes both ways. Older employees are taking advantage of continuing to work after the age of sixty-five and the younger generation is storming the workforce with new expectations to suit their lifestyles. Being able to manage each end of the spectrum will prove to be an asset to any leader. Through communicating effectively, a leader can avoid the problems that arise when dealing with a multi-generational work force. Speaking to your employees about their expectations and goals are paramount to being able to successfully manage both older and younger workers. We cannot assume that a younger worker wants to be the CEO of the company, just as we cannot assume that an older worker does not want to spend time outside of the office with his (her) colleagues. Using communication to directly ask the employees what they want out of the job will help to avoid misunderstandings as well as misconstrued expectations of the other.

Empathy is also a characteristic that is essential in managing a multi-generational workforce. Being able to understand where someone is coming from means taking the time to comprehend their reasoning for certain matters, but it also means providing them with what they need based upon their experiences. A person with empathy can connect to and build trust with several different types of people based on the fact that they are able to understand where the other is coming from. A leader must make the “effort to understand why people do what they do” (Cook & Ross Inc., 2004).

After understanding your workers, it becomes easier to motivate them. We developed insight into motivation after discussing our different experiences. What motivates us as people varies; even the style of motivation varies. Some members responded well to a realistic motivator while others enjoyed a more casual, humorous style of motivation. Learning about your employees helps determine the style of motivation you should adapt.

“It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it” (Warren Buffet). This quote describes how easy it is to falter in the area of integrity. Ethics has become a key aspect of leadership today. With the number and magnitude of corporate scandals, it is easy to say you stand for something than it is to actually prove it. Effective leaders must stand by the values they purport, therefore, they should not keep values that they may have the possibility of violating. The team is not saying this is easy, but it is a standard that should be upheld – especially when thinking about future leaders. A manager must lead by example and focus on the behavioural outcomes more than the performance outcomes.Set the expectations at where you believe you can legitimately operate at – leaders are not perfect after all.

In today’s globalized market, diversity is an ever-increasing factor in organizations. We feel that the struggles of managing diversity can be mediated with a competent, empathetic, and communicative leader. Competency comes into play when a leader is aware of differences and able to manage diversity. The manager should be able to align the thought processes of diverse interest groups to the common vision. How do they accomplish this? Through empathy and communication. We discussed a personal experience earlier of how a manager took the time to understand his diverse team by openly communicating about differences in cultures and work ethics. Politicians often learn to attract a very diverse array of voters. Barrack Obama’s slogan, “yes we can”, was centralized enough that it applied to various groups in the United States but his meetings with senior citizens versus Mexican immigrants were extremely different. The two groups had different priorities and expectations. A manager who takes the time to understand where his (her) employees are coming from, will find it easier to motivate them successfully.

In conclusion, based on our analysis and course material study, we believe that there is no perfect recipe or readymade solution to be an effective leader. However, having the characteristics discussed above and using them appropriately places one on the right track to be an effective leader.

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