There are several thousand definitions of leadership. To me, leadership is simply the process of social influence through which a leader enlists the support of others (the followers) to accomplish a task. Over several years of studying leadership and working with accomplished leaders across many continents of the world, I have come to terms with the 4 fundamental traits distinguishing high performing leaders from mediocre.
Before sharing the 4 traits distinguishing high performing leaders, let me first debunk some of the myths about high-performance leadership. Contrary to some opinions, high performing leadership is not about position, title, power, or authority. It has so much less (if any) to do with being a celebrity, CEO, president, prime minister, superstar, hero, or wealth accumulation. As a matter of fact, high-performance leaders are ordinary individuals having Passion and Purpose to serve and change the status quo.
Like everything that succeeds long-term, high-performance leadership is built and sustained on the creed of Credibility. Regardless of passion and purpose, nobody can create and sustain high-performing results if his or her words do not add up with their actions at any time. Credibility is, therefore, the very foundation upon which high-performance leadership is built.
The four characteristics of high performing leaders
When people are looking for a leader they will follow “Willingly,” they look for someone who is credible. Credibility in this context means: “Someone who is honest, knows where he is going, is excited about reaching there, and has the competence of getting there with his followers.
Let me explain this a little deeper along with the four traits.
Regardless of passion and purpose, nobody can create and sustain high-performing results if their words do not add up with their actions at any time.
When people are looking for a leader they can follow “Willingly,” they first look for someone who can tell them the truth. In leadership, honesty is the assurance that we can trust you. It is the fundamental trait that people look for in a leader they want to follow without questioning. Sadly, though, many people are disappointed every day by following people who “build bridges in the air;” self-acclaimed leaders who have compromised this essential leadership quality to selfish ambition and greed. You see it happening in many families, business organizations, and or in different countries. The truth, however, remains that honesty is one personal trait that can neither be faked nor compromised because it is at the foundation of a person’s core values, which drive his or her decisions, actions, and behaviours.
To be a high performing leader whom others will be following willingly, do what you say. Discover your core values and live by them. Living out your core values is the easiest way to demonstrate honesty and trustworthiness to your followers.
Forward-looking is the second most important trait of high-performing leaders. It is another word for having a vision. Being forward-looking suggests that a leader whom others would be following willingly must have a sense of direction. With that in mind, I believe that a leader that must attract followers should be willing to answer the question: “Where are you going?” You need to understand that people cannot follow you willingly unless they know the destination (where) you are headed. That said, having a vision (of a future destination) will not completely make one a high-performing leader. People also want to see how reaching that future destination with you can change their lives positively.
So, to be a high-performing leader whom others will be following willingly, you must have a compelling vision of the future you want to reach. Having a vision is not enough, though. You must be able to help your people understand how reaching that ‘future destination‘ with you will make their quality of life or career better.
You do not need to be a motivational speaker to inspire people to follow willingly. Being inspiring means having the ability to communicate visions in ways that will engage and mobilize people to believe that there is something in it for them. Strategically, it means selling your compelling vision to win other people’s buy-in. Certain key elements need to be present for someone to be considered inspiring. For example, you must be genuinely passionate, optimistic, and positive, when sharing your vision. No one wants to willingly follow a leader who is not enthusiastic about where he’s going.
To be a high performing leader whom others will be following willingly, learn to communicate your vision in ways that give people a reason to believe that tomorrow will be better if they follow you. Be optimistic; be positive, and excitingly passionate when sharing your vision. Focus on giving hope and uplifting the people’s spirit with your communication.
Being competent speaks about having the ability or skill to make great things happen. As you probably know, high performing leaders bring to bear meaningful changes and create measurable results. Talk is cheap we know, but your followers have to trust that you know what you’re talking about and have the skills to create the results in reality. So it is not just about making empty promises, you’ve got to show a track record of your past accomplishments.
To be the high performing leader that others will be following willing, be great at getting great things done. You need not know how to do everything, but you need to be great at engaging and mobilizing the best people around you to deliver superior results.
In summary, when people are looking for high performing leaders they can follow willingly, they look for someone who is credible. Credibility in this respect implies to someone who can tell the truth (honesty), has a clear idea of where he is going (forward-looking), is excited (inspiring) about reaching there, and has the skills (competence) to get everyone there. These are the 4 distinguishing traits of high performing leaders.