Qualities of Leadership

What defines a leader? This is a question studied for decades, but not well answered. What we do know is that leadership is a set of characteristics formed within each of us and practiced in group and organizational settings. So what are these characteristics that make up the quality of a leader?

An ideal leader is well balanced, with personal awareness, people skills, and a love for learning. Good leaders have knowledge and practice across diverse fields, from science and business to psychology and communication. These qualities are framed in confidence, humility, and ethics. There is no separation of the person from the leader.

One of our underlying beliefs is that leadership potential correlates with the wholeness of a person. Any personal deficits, like a lack of social skills, for example, will influence one's ability to be a good leader. This statement provides insight to our approach with leadership development.

Our leadership program is based in design principles—leadership values that form the characteristics of a good leader. Our coaching process includes a set of leadership qualities we help develop. We help leaders see themselves and their organizations differently. To see ourselves and our world differently takes a willingness to look again, to see each person, each issue, and each moment freshly, and to challenge our own assumptions about virtually everything.

In Zen, this way of seeing things is referred to as "beginner's mind", seeing the world with fresh eyes and seeing people in the moment rather than seeing their old stories. Like the path of Zen, developing leadership qualities is a practice, something you do every day of your life, mindfully paying attention to your thoughts and behaviors and how they affect you and others.

To practice Zen is to live each moment with beginner’s mind, innocent and open, curious, seeing just what is there. To practice leadership is no different. If your mind is clear, it is always ready and open to anything. "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's, few" — Shunryu Suzuki. Once we see ourselves as an expert, we’ve closed our mind to the realm of possibilities. We are no longer tuned in, no longer listening and observing for what may be possible, no longer open to learning.

Another way of understanding leadership is to ask: what do leaders do? Leaders create a vision of the future, set direction, and influence people to join them. To influence someone, we establish trust and respect and develop rapport. We convice people to join us on a quest. Influencing people is the opposite of ordering people to do something based on authority. Influencing people is the art of persuasion and building relations.

Coaching helps leaders develop the right tools for the right moment, both foundational and visionary. In coaching, as with any learning process, results are shaped by our views and actions:

When we are unwilling to do something different, to see from a new perspective, to become someone different, how can we expect different results? Change begins within. Doing something different begins with seeing things from a new perspective. Part of this change is learning to look again at what we thought we knew. Once a coach has an understanding of where a client is today and where he or she wants to be, they can then design an effective learning path. But of course we must also consider the culture.

As former MIT professor and foundational thought leader Edgar Schein said about organizations: leadership and culture are two sides of the same coin [Article]. An organization is a reflection of the values and beliefs of its leadership and its members. We know that the degree of congruency between the values and beliefs of an organization's leaders and of its members, correlates with the power of an organization’s culture. The more they differ, the more cultural dissonance and the less productivity. Our leadership programs include learning about organizational culture.

Our leadership services include the following areas, as well as customized learning: