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7 Leadership Qualities To Drive Change

In this second post for TRVST, Dene Stuart explores the leadership qualities that are required and that we can all develop to drive change. Dene has developed these 7 leadership qualities to help inspire exceptional leaders as a product of years of experience.

Working in corporations and as an independent, Dene has a raft of leadership knowledge and observations to share. With a passion for not only sharing his leadership qualities, models, and ideas, Dene also champions practical action to help people develop leadership skills for change.

“I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”

Queen Elizabeth II

To engage, you must be engaging

If you google definitions of leadership, it returns 125,000,000 possible answers.

That’s because anyone who has actually thought about leadership has come up with their own definition. I particularly like the definition above from Queen Elizabeth because she has one of the most difficult leadership positions in the world.

She has the position, status, and authority but no real power.

Her ability to lead is totally dependent on her ability to get people to believe in her through the example she sets.

Leadership Qualities in Crises

This most obviously came to light during the Princess Diana crisis. Torn between the protocols of the history of royal decorum and the demands of a modern, media-driven world, she came as close to losing the support of her “subjects” as any leader in the history of the royal family.

In the film The Queen, starring Helen Mirren, she has finally accepted that she must come back to Buckingham Palace to show her “Subjects” how much she cares. As a publicly owned figure, her right to grieve in private no longer existed.

She had the decision to make; accept this change in public demand or stand fast and hold to past dogmas.

Her choice to accept a new world not only saved her but became the platform to launch a new level of popularity and affection that she could not have envisaged beforehand.

This came to a peak at the 2012 London Olympics when she agreed to take part in a light-hearted James Bond spoof as the precursor to her formal entrance. In achieving this miraculous turnaround, from vilified and out of touch to loved and revered, Her Majesty displayed the 7 essential leadership qualities that you must master if you want to achieve long-term change.

Whether she knew it consciously is another question; maybe she just has an instinctive feel for leadership that gave her the sense of what to do.

But most people in leadership positions do not have this instinct.

In a 2017 global study by Gallup, The State of the Global Workplace they discovered that just 15% of people employed are actively engaged in the work they do. In Western Europe, this declines to 10%. What was most surprising was that those who could be said to be in leadership roles were also not fully engaged. With only 28% answering positively.

What marked out Queen Elizabeth was that she was fully engaged in her role.

It was her engagement that caused her to care and, therefore, to want to do something about the position in which she found herself. Being engaged yourself is the fundamental position you must adopt if you wish to lead change in others, but it is not a skill, in itself.

It is a state of being.

And without it, as your starting position, you will never engage other people in your cause.

The 7 Leadership Qualities for Long-Term Change

One of the frustrations when thinking about leadership is the amount of money, time, and effort that has gone into understanding the important qualities of a good leader, and then Gallup comes along and shows that this understanding is not being implemented in the workplace effectively.

And there is a reason for that.

Whilst most studies look at what good business leaders “do” they do not look at what stops good people from becoming good leaders of change.

What makes for great leadership? Having spent 35 years experiencing and studying this phenomenon, I have identified what the majority of leaders do that stops them from being engaging and, therefore, effective. And there are 7 essential differences between effective and non-effective leaders of change.

1. Vision

Vision - One of 7 Leadership Qualities
Photo by Coline Beulin on Unsplash

Most people in leadership positions do not have a vision of the changes they would like to bring about. What they have is a vision of the circumstances they would like to change so that they can feel better in their jobs.

This is a crucial distinction to make, and it comes from the feeling that they can’t bring about structural change to their environment. They feel that this can only be achieved by their bosses. So, although they are leaders, they feel disempowered.

When they do allow themselves to dream about the ideal environment, the negative inner talk starts to attack them.

“Be reasonable”

“That’d never happen”

“they won’t listen to me”

I’m sure you’ve had that experience.

The first skill great leaders have to master is the ability to envisage a different future to the one they are experiencing today and to allow that to remain in their mind and not be killed by their negative inner talk.

American President Woodrow Wilson understood this.

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand”

Related read: Vision Quotes.

2. Commitment

When you have created your vision, you then have to commit to it fully. The failure of most leaders at this point is that commitment requires courage and self-awareness, and requires that you put your head above the parapets and stay calm. Which, in most organizations, is inherently risky, unless they have a culture that supports it.

Most leaders fail at this stage because they focus on their survival within the organization, and when you want to change things, you will inevitably run against others who either don’t want change or have their own change agenda.

In this context, for an organization, you can swap; community, group, and society. The same principle applies.

Research shows that to achieve commitment, there are two strategies you can adopt to make it far more likely that you will stay the distance and see the realization of your vision.

Leadership Qualities and Values

Firstly, according to research carried out by Kennon Sheldon and Andrew Elliot in 1999, your objective must be concordant with your personal values1. What gets in the way at this point is that most people have not invested the time to really understand their values.

Your values will absolutely determine what actions you take or don’t take in any situation. Most people have a sense of right or wrong, which guides them, but they aren’t consciously aware of why they think this way.

So, when they experience a situation that puts them in a dilemma, they cannot navigate their way through to a decision that feels right and concordant. So, they stay with their default way of thinking, and this does not allow them to challenge the status quo, take personal responsibility or realize their full potential.

Secondly, you will be much more likely to succeed if you commit your vision to paper. Research carried out by Dr. Gail Winters at Dominican University, California, shows that you are at least 1/3rd more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down2 and, importantly, share your vision with some trusted team members or friends. Exercising effective communication here helps those around you understand your vision.

3. Creation

Creation - One of 7 Leadership Qualities
Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Next, you must connect to your innate creativity to develop the systems, processes, and structures that will support your new vision. For BIG visions, you will need to have steps along the way. For smaller visions, you might be able to make the leap in a single jump, keeping an open mind to what might be.

It is your ability to be creative at this stage that will help others to buy into your vision.

Robert Kelley is one of the few researchers to study the idea of followership as opposed to leadership. (you can read his basic theory in this article in the Harvard Business Review).

He identified three difficult positions in which leaders can find themselves.

  1. When their teams believe in the vision but not the leader: he called this the position of Hope.
  2. When their teams believe in the leader but not the vision: he called this the position of Faith.
  3. When the team doesn’t believe in the vision or the leader: he called this the position of Opposition

It is your ability to develop credible ideas that support your vision that will help you to achieve the ideal position of a leader. Good leaders demonstrate the ability to inspire their teams and achieve powerful Buy-In. Good leadership is self-aware and supports new ideas for future success.

4. Influence

If you want to create change, you must have the ability to influence people. However, this is a subject that raises much confusion and fear.

There are 3 common pitfalls when it comes to influencing.

  1. Because of past experiences, many get stuck at this point because they see influence as manipulation. They have developed a set of values that can be best described as honest communication. And believe that any attempt to persuade others out of their current way of thinking is manipulative.
  2. Because they believe so passionately in their cause, they cannot see the other’s point of view. And, in their passion, they create the opposite of what they want: - resistance to their ideas. Their passion creates defensiveness in those they want to recruit to the cause.
  3. They see influence as “selling.” For many, the idea of selling carries with it all kinds of negative associations, and therefore, they retreat from situations where they will have to “sell” their ideas.

Influence is one of those leadership skills you must develop to demonstrate the important leadership qualities of a change leader.

As the management guru Ken Blanchard, best known for his work on Situational Leadership, great leaders understand:

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”

5. Motivation

Your path to your goal will never be smooth and straightforward. There will be obstacles on the way and as the leader. You will have to assume responsibility for maintaining your own motivation and that of your followers when the going gets tough.

The biggest detrimental leadership quality shown at this stage is a lack of understanding of the fundamental principles of motivation.

Because the cultural model of most modern economic societies is to reward achievement, motivation has come to be associated with rewards. This is the basis on which working practices in the modern industrial factory were based.

Payment on results.

This leads to the most common way of thinking; “I’ll be happy when…”

Where the “when” is the achievement of the result.

Leadership and Failure

The problem with this approach is that the human brain doesn’t work in this way. So, when obstacles appear on the journey, it creates the experience of failure.

This is because most people rely on their willpower for their motivation to get through these experiences of failure. But willpower is a short-term solution.

In his book Willpower,  Roy Baumeister shows that whilst very powerful, your willpower can only serve you over short periods.

It depletes very quickly.

You can think of it as your Usain Bolt of motivation. Great for short sprints, but it’s not going to keep you going in the long run.

For that, you need something with more stamina, more like a Mo Farrah.

And that comes from your purpose, your why.

When you can tap into your deepest “Why” you will discover the motivation to keep you going when all seems against you. And you will become one of those true leaders, inspiring your followers and those you want to influence.

6. Emotional Intelligence

It is inevitable that change causes an emotional reaction. It creates feelings of desire and repulsion. And in the height of these emotional sensations, it is important that you keep your balance.

That is emotional intelligence.

It is your emotions that give you your experiences in life. Understanding your emotions is also an important leadership quality.

Imagine what life would be like without your emotions. Life would be a bland existence without the highs and lows that give you a sense of direction.

Your emotions are inextricably linked to your values. When your values are challenged, the mental processes of the brain create an emotional experience that then leads you to behave in a certain way.

It was psychologist Carl Jung who understood this. Through his study, he made the connection between peoples’ behaviors and emotions. It is best summed in one of his quotes (for more leadership quotes click here)

“Until you make the unconscious, conscious; it will direct your life and you will call it fate”

This reflects his findings. Most people do not develop their awareness of the impact of their emotional state on their behavior.

As a leader wanting to bring about change in others, an imperative leadership quality to develop is your awareness of the role of emotions and the way they support or impede the adoption of change.

7. Refresh

For longer change projects, you must keep up the momentum. Many change programs fail because the momentum is lost when the change doesn’t happen quickly.

Allan Drexler and David Sibbet spent 10 years building a model of team performance that shows the predictable stages involved in both creating and sustaining teams.

Their model has seven stages, the last of which is Renewal.

What they saw through their research was that are moments when a clear part of a change program has been completed. And it is at these times when momentum can be lost unless a definite stage of renewal takes place.

If you want to keep the momentum of your project, as a leader, it is a key job of yours, and one of the essential qualities of an effective leader, to recognize these times and take responsibility for renewing your own commitment. As a result, engage your team of colleagues and followers to renew their commitment as well.

7 Leadership Qualities in Summary

These are the 7 leadership qualities you must master if you want to be a leader who not just imagines change but actually delivers a successful change program.

If you are not bored, scared, or numbed by the Brexit situation, you might like to consider Theresa May’s leadership traits in managing the exit process against the seven factors identified above.

Her task has been immense and unenviable. Maybe it was an impossible task to bring such a diverse range of people together and create a consensus. But…

… there were definitely some things she could have done more effectively if she’d been aware of these seven leadership qualities and skills.

Effective leadership is something the best leaders have honed over time. Strong leaders retain a positive attitude and nurture their own leadership style through ongoing leadership development.

Dene Stuart:

Dene Stuart is the founder of the Exceptional Leader Academy.  Through his experiences of a 35-year commercial career as a leader in the corporate world and as an employer in his own businesses, he has identified 7 key principles of Exceptional Leadership and the skills you must develop if you want to be truly effective as a leader.

He has captured these principles in The Exceptional Leader Inventory, which you can download FREE from exceptionalleaderacademy.com

1Sheldon, K. M., & Elliot, A. J. (1999). Goal striving, need satisfaction, and longitudinal well-being: The self-concordance model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(3), 482-497. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.76.3.482

Gardner, Sarah and Albee, Dave, "Study focuses on strategies for achieving goals,
resolutions" (2015). Press Releases. 266.

Dene Stuart is the founder of the Exceptional Leader Academy. He has identified 7 key principles of Exceptional Leadership and the skills you must develop if you want to be truly effective as a leader.
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