Becoming That Leader Others Wish They Were

In your capacity as a leader, do you think people follow you because they have to or because it is what is expected? This in itself is still effective, as things will get done, but you will never see them perform at the levels that will bring great results until they go beyond the above reasons. These reasons demonstrate an engaged employee at best, but never an inspired one.

Think about the leaders in your past that you followed because you wanted to. What are some words you could use to describe them? They definitely must have had an impact on how you do some things to date and taught you a lot. You could even say they molded you. So, how do you lead people and help them become the best they can be?


I began reading a devotional series that speaks of leading like Jesus, which has inspired this series of leadership traits/skills that all great leaders must develop, not only for themselves, but also for the people they lead. These are:

  • Great leaders have clarity.
  • Great leaders are warm.
  • Great leaders have influence.
  • Great leaders are compassionate.
  • Great leaders serve by leading.
  • Great leaders are vulnerable.
  • Great leaders develop people.
  • Great leaders mentor.

One thing to note is that having the above traits is not necessarily tied to a certain personality. Anyone can cultivate the above and people will eagerly follow you.

Great leaders have clarity

Leaders are constantly expected to create clarity for themselves, the organization and the people around them. Clarity gives more security and confidence. Clarity allows for people to focus. Without organizational clarity, productivity suffers and turnover increases (Hamish Knox in Management & Leadership). A great leader must define the mission, vision, the game plan, and the expectations of each individual. In addition to the above, these great leaders must communicate the above, clearly of course. 

When there is clarity, a company’s vision can finally be executed on. Some time back, when I was working for a certain start-up in Nairobi, I was told that part of being in a start-up is that we have to be scrappy as we did not know the answers to many of the questions we had. In fact the saying was that, “We are building the plane as we are flying it.” And that was OK. I believe it was part of the attraction initially. However, many of us left because there was no clarity around where the plane was flying to, even if we were building it as we were flying. We felt that a lot of our activities were not informed by a vision, which meant that we were constantly changing directions in short spans of time. Lack of clarity can really cost an organization in many ways.

Clarity also allows for demystification of daily activities. When there is clarity in the leadership realm, a trickle-down effect is observed (of course if you have put in place the correct mechanisms, e.g. proper management). I have seen this in several successful organizations when executing the annual business strategy – the board and chiefs create the strategy for the year, which is then communicated to directors, who then communicate this to managers. Managers then implement this in their teams. All are held accountable with some form of performance management tool that all ties back to the overall business strategy. This increase the overall business productivity, as well as addresses the challenge of uncertainty in the new year.

Great leaders are warm

A person with a warm personality makes other people feel liked, cared for, embraced and accepted. This person is kind and connects with others. Warmth should not be confused with extroversion. Warmth is all about authenticity without narcissism. Warren Bennis says, “Good leaders make people feel that they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery. Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organization. When that happens people feel centered and that gives their work meaning.”

I once worked for the Nairobi office of a company whose headquarters were in South Africa. We in the Nairobi office did not get to interact with our CEO often as he was based in the SA office. However, one thing that we all agreed on regarding our CEO is that you never forgot your encounters with him, however few. Our CEO was a very introverted person. However, whenever he was with other people, he would really connect and engage with each person. I remember meeting him during my orientation session, and felt that he was truly interested in getting to know me better. He had this thing where he could shut out the rest of the world and focus on you and only you for ten minutes. When a situation required compassion, you could feel that he was being genuine in his compassion. In other words, he was authentic in his interaction with people, and was honest about those flaws that made him human. You can bet that many people consider him their role model.

What are your thoughts around clarity and warmth in leaders?

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3 thoughts on “Becoming That Leader Others Wish They Were”

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