Is There a Formula to Becoming a Great Leader?


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Vaya Group

Coaching, Leadership, Learning & Development

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In times of uncertainty, whether it’s in politics, business, family, or religion, people look to their leaders for answers. 

The last year has been full of economic and political uncertainty, both at home and abroad. With business scandals and data breaches pouring into the news on a seemingly daily basis, the people look to executives to lead us down the right path towards better security and stable growth. In times of uncertainty we need to put our faith in someone who is capable and trustworthy.

It is surprising that while we are in the midst of trying times, according to Fortune Magazine, only 21% of people say they trust business leaders to make ethical and moral decisions. Only 15% trust government leaders to do the same. Fortune Magazine’s April 2014 edition contains an interview with General George W. Casey Jr. of the United States Army. He is named as one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders according to Fortune Magazine. An acronym used in the article, originally used by the U.S. Army War College, describes the times we live in accurately. That acronym is VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

What components make up a sound leader? “There is no formula for leadership” says Leading Marines, a book which all U.S. Marines are required to read. So if there is no recipe to make a great leader then how can talent management firms, executive coaches, and learning and development professionals develop leaders? It starts with defining what leadership means to the population that seeks the leader. According to Fortune Magazine’s interview with Bill Clinton, “leadership means bringing people together in pursuit of a common cause, developing a plan to achieve it, and staying with it until the goal is achieved.” He goes on to say that he believes flexibility, courage, confidence, common sense, and the strength to admit when you are wrong are all attributes that many leaders share. President Clinton believes a great leader needs to “look for the dreams and hurts, hopes and fears, in the eyes of everyone” they meet.

Based on our experience assessing executives for more than a decade, some of the common behavioral traits we have found in successful executives lead to one of four leadership styles. The driver tends to take charge, is assertive, goals driven, and achievement motivated. The orchestrator is planned and prepared, logical, analytical, and knows how to best leverage resources. The cultivator is known as a ‘people person’. He/she works well with others, develops team members, and is open to diverse ideas and developing themselves. Finally, the visionary is focused on the future. He/she anticipates obstacles, finds ways to enhance the business, and gains others’ buy-in on the direction to follow.

Because there is no formula for leadership, no one can tell you what it takes to be an effective leader. There are only behavioral traits that people who are considered great leaders tend to have in common. Knowing this, it is possible for leadership development professionals to mold and coach top performing individuals into effective leaders. Leaders are never done learning and growing. The best leaders can always get better. Putting in the effort and self-reflection to shape yourself into a better leader and working with others to gain feedback and advice on your development is the best way to get on track to becoming a leader for tomorrow, today.

Topics: Coaching Leadership Learning & Development

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