Developing Leadership Qualities

What is the process of developing leadership “being” qualities? We have found that leadership development can be facilitated with several steps: 

  1. Selecting a Focus: Only concentrate on one leadership quality at a time. This will help you unlock less obvious ideas about it and notice more opportunities to practice and make it part of your character.
  2. Coaching: Very few people can learn in isolation. An experienced coach can multiply your rate of learning, helping you see ideas and practices that you would miss in the stress of learning alone. Who at your company or in your life can coach you? 
  3. Scheduling: Put meetings with your coach or team on your calendar. Your conscious and unconscious mind have to know that your progress will be discussed at a particular time. 
  4. Practice and Feedback: Put yourself in situations where you can practice your chosen leadership quality and get feedback on your efforts right away. This will also give you a sense of your progress toward mastery.

When you make a definite decision to build an important leadership quality and put it on your calendar, it should become easier to find the coaching and support you need.

Developing Leaders Qualities

Most high performing organizations seem to have one common denominator, extraordinary leadership.   Exceptional leaders not only have the technical qualifications, business experience, and leadership skills, but they also have the core beliefs, principles, and character to support their visible actions and observable behaviors.   Exceptional leadership is grounded in core leadership qualities and attributes that create a filter for the practices and behaviors that we see in these leaders.  In essence, they talk the talk, they walk the walk, and in a genuine way they are the talk.  Good leadership is about who you are and what you stand for as much as it is about what you do.  We like to say it is the “be’s” of leadership more than the “do’s” that make truly great leaders.

How to Develop Leadership Attributes in Others

When you are coaching other team members, one of your main roles is to help them rediscover their own commitment to ongoing personal growth. Most of us have had it before, such as when we were first excited about going to school. 

Here are some specific techniques to help you develop leadership qualities in others: 

  • Help them commit to the development of their leadership qualities and see the benefits of the process.
  • Help employees remember times they overcame challenges in the past and to use that experience to get through current difficulties.
  • Be reliable in your scheduled one-on-one meetings and group meetings. Knowing a meeting is coming can help to focus and motivate the development of leadership qualities.
  • Help team members pick just one leadership quality at a time. The choice should be based on what is relevant and important to each person’s work. 
  • Give individual advice to help each employee reach his or her goals.
  • Help employees practice the thoughts and behaviors of the leadership quality they’re working on.
  • Brainstorm ways they want to be reminded to practice, venues and situations they can practice in, and ways of getting immediate feedback that will help them improve.
  • Continue the development of your leadership qualities so that you’ll have ideas and best practices to share. 
  • Lead group meetings in which employees can share and discuss what they’re learning.

Be patient with employees and with yourself, because we all enter a higher state of stress during learning. Focus on just the next step. Your goal is not speed, but to have leadership qualities truly become permanent parts of your character, motivating your actions for the rest of your career and beyond.

Being a good leader is more challenging than simply executing good leadership activities and tasks.  If you don’t have a clear sense of the “be’s” then the “do’s” won’t matter. People can readily recognize the façade or veneer that challenges and pressures reveal in the real inner core of a person.  There is no question that achieving extraordinary results with a team requires both the “be” and the “do.” These two dimensions of leadership are inseparable. The actions and the intentions reinforce each other.

For example, trust inspires one to delegate and empower others and delegating when done correctly strengthens one’s commitment to the principle of trust.  In short, the do (delegate) without the “be” (trust) is somewhat artificial and shallow. Conversely, to “be” without the “do” is pretty ineffective. Having the right heart or deep conviction alone doesn’t move the needle when you are trying to execute a strategy.  The to “be” without the “do” is self-deception. Believing that you are a good leader merely because you have sound beliefs is pretty empty and disingenuous. The importance of the “be” is more substantial only because it is the place where authentic actions come from.

Goals to Improve Leadership Skills

Just as you target key performance indicators in your work, you should set goals for the development of leadership qualities. You could focus on soft skills, such as:

  • Being open to change
  • Caring about communication (which requires genuinely liking people)
  • Desiring to facilitate good communities
  • Truthfulness
  • Trustworthiness
  • Accountability
  • Courage
  • Being collaborative
  • Conviction
  • Confidence
  • Flexibility
  • Vision
  • Reliability
  • Passion for your work

Next, further break your chosen quality into small actions, which you can practice for a period of time, such as a week. Refer to our Qualities of Leadership Infographic to find sub-skills under various leadership traits. 

For example, if you are developing trustworthiness, you could further break it down into practicing:

  • Active listening
  • Being more responsive
  • Recognizing the accomplishments of others
  • Being a good resource
  • Empowering others

You will learn leadership qualities more quickly when you are always practicing just one portion of the quality you’re working on.

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The challenge for many leaders is that they can get wrapped up in the activity trap and focus on checking off the do’s.  They often have good things on their leadership “to do list.” However, leaders infrequently have a “to be list” or engage in deliberate “to be” exercises.  Many leaders get wrapped up in the event of get something done without cultivating the root cause, the nature, or character that ought to be driving the event in the first place.  Even though the “be’s” are hard to see, they are the driving force behind the “do’s.” It is a cause and effect connection behind what we are and what we do that makes a difference over the long haul.  A strong be-do connection will withstand the pressures to compromise or surrender to the circumstances of the moment. We see leaders giving feedback, recognizing and effectively having courageous conversations about important issues. Their “do’s” reveal the hidden support, care, and interest that leaders feels about the employees and their potential.  When leaders consistently practice and do the action of good leadership, they demonstrate their true leadership beliefs, character, and deep qualities.

The thing that is worth remembering about authentic quality-driven leadership is that the trigger or motivating force behind what we do are the “be’s.”  It is like a duck moving quickly across the water, it is hard to see its busy feet as it propels itself forward. It takes time to develop the “be’s.” It takes good role models, good learning opportunities, maybe a personal coach or a direct report who will us the truth about our style, our demeanor, or inconsistencies in our behavior.

It is essential that periodically we take time to reflect on our “be’s” and assess where we need to go and what we need to develop in order to become a truly exceptional leader.  Sometimes it is more effective in the long run to cultivate one new “be” than three or four “do’s” techniques. We have experienced many leaders who correctly focus on the “be’s” that leads to more effective “do’s” which ultimately produces more have’s (results and success).

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About the Author

Steven Stowell, Ph.D.

Dr. Steven J. Stowell is the Founder and President of the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, Inc. CMOE was created in 1978 for the purpose of helping individuals and teams maximize their effectiveness and create strategic competitiveness. Steve’s special interests lie in helping leaders and organizations transform into high-performance cultures that are focused on long-term, sustained growth.Steve began his career working in the energy industry. During the past 30 years, Steve has consulted with both small and large corporations, government agencies, school systems, and non-profit organizations in 35 different countries.Steve enjoys the challenges of • Helping functional organizations define, create, and execute strategy in order to differentiate the business. • Developing and designing creative and innovative learning experiences, simulations, and keynote presentations. • Helping functions across the organization be more effective and aligned in executing long-term plans.The centerpiece of Steve’s consulting, learning, and executive coaching work is his advocacy of applied research and data collection. Steve is a highly effective presenter and facilitator and enjoys creating customized solutions, assisting senior teams, defining strategic direction from the individual level to the corporate and business-unit level, and improving teams that are faced with important challenges and issues.