What qualities do you picture when tasked with describing the perfect leader? Authoritative? Bold? A people person? Visionary? While it is true that all these qualities can contribute to making a great leader, they are not in fact a definitive list. Less obvious skills and personality traits such as being introverted, showing forgiveness and inquisitiveness are actually equally, if indeed not more, important that these more obvious attributes listed above when it comes to being a good leader.
A large part of maintaining a leadership role is your ability to work with, manage and lead other people. Many organisations therefore choose naturally extroverted people to fulfil their leadership roles, presuming that in doing so they are picking an individual with strong oral communication skills that will not pale in the face of large-scale meetings and high-pressured environments.
Yet while it is true that leaders must be capable of performing all these tasks, does this necessarily mean that an extrovert is right for the job? According to Quartz, introverts could in fact make as strong leaders as their more outgoing colleagues, but a lack of confidence in their suitability for the role holds them back from applying for top leadership positions. While taking into account new research which has traced these findings, Quartz argues that ‘just because introverts don’t expect themselves to manage leadership positions, doesn’t mean they cannot be successful leaders.’
Introverts possess a number of skills and characteristics which Quartz believes ‘should assist individuals in leadership positions, like listening and deep thinking.’ It is also suggested that ‘introverts are more effective leaders of proactive teams than extraverts’ and can ‘foster good performance in others by focusing on the growth and well-being of their teams.’
Another unexpected skill it has been argued can aid an individual’s capacity to be a good leader is their propensity for forgiveness. This case was recently made by Rajeev Peshawaria, Forbes contributor and CEO of The Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre in Kuala Lumpur. Peshawaria argues that forgiveness could in fact be the ‘secret to innovation’, but currently ‘we often fail to see the full dimensionality of leaders. We tend to pick a few qualities, in a few situations, valorize those, while ignoring the other essential characteristics that also have to be present in order for a leader to be great.’
Peshawaria suggests that because the conventional image of a leader is so ingrained on our consciousness, we struggle to push the boundaries of what we expect a leader to look like. He believes that in modern company culture forgiveness should be seen as an essential trait, as it gives those members of the team who are striving to innovate the support and permission they need to fail along the way. When organisations are constantly looking for ways to embed a culture of innovation, leaders cannot risk creating an environment where employees do not come forward with new ideas or fear the repercussions of making mistakes in the bid for incremental innovation.
While being inquisitive in the sense that you are capable of thinking outside the box, performing creative tasks and building future strategies is now a requirement of every leadership role, how often do leaders think to extend this inquisitiveness to what is going on with their teams?
Jeff Boss, CEO of Chaos Advantage and Forbes contributor, suggests that ‘it’s humbling to ask questions’ because it reveals what you don’t know. In an age where leaders are often expected to have the answers for everything, many hold back from asking questions of their teams for fear of displaying incompetence or a lack of knowledge.
Boss believes that a good leader must be able to ask questions of his team because ‘when you know what’s important to your manager and what he or she is thinking then you also know what you need to do to produce the right type of work for him or her and for your team.’
Key questions you could ask include:
- What does success look like?
- What’s holding us back?
- Who has experience with this?
- What’s the climate here?
- What if this setback is really an opportunity in disguise?
- What hasn’t been achieved yet?
By asking such questions and, importantly, listening for the answer no matter whether positive or negative, leaders can employ their skills of inquisitiveness not just to “big” questions like strategy and idea generation, but also to engagement with and understanding of your team and its needs. This in turn will feed those longer term aims, and foster a strong relationship between leader and led.
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