Wallem Group’s HR head Debbie Mannas lists the top 10 traits of a great leader.  

As a human resources practitioner for a good many years, I have been fortunate to have been able to observe a number of different leaders and leadership styles. Some were great, some were good, some were infinitely avoidable. But I learnt from them all.

Here, in no particular order, are 10 common characteristics the great leaders I have known have displayed.

1. A strong balance of self-acceptance and self-criticality, giving them a healthy self-esteem. These are wonderful people to be around because they don’t have chips on their shoulders, take things personally or need to be right all the time. They are humble, endlessly curious and are always learning. Their healthy self-esteem allows them to transcend their ego barriers and leverage the skills of others.

2. Uncanny ability to spot talent. The great leaders I have seen are uncannily astute and are voracious talent spotters. They do not have blind spots when it comes to their friends or inner circle. They appreciate that “talent” is a moving target and drive their people to stay relevant. I have never seen a great leader being accused of promoting their friends and cronies. Surrounding a great leader is often a very diverse team.

The great leaders I have seen are uncannily astute and are voracious talent spotters.
3. Make wise decisions. Their decisions are formed on a basis of data analysis and what can go wrong, sounding out subject matter experts, plus open-mindedness. They have the good sense to see through personal agendas; their own agenda is long-term results and sustainability, and to this end they have a clarity of thinking and vision that is quite breathtaking.

4. Optimism. Great leaders are a wonderful positive force to be around. While being analytical and analysing the downside of decisions, they are also optimistic about opportunities and the future. Nothing ventured nothing gained, and they understand that great results involve investments in time and resources.

Great leaders are a wonderful positive force to be around.
5. Alignment. They prioritise aligning everybody to results, from themselves right down to the filing clerk and office assistant. They understand the link between individuals and its effect on team results, the product and the customer. I have never seen a great leader begrudge the time spent in strategising, aligning and working with their teams to ensure that every goal throughout the company is linked and contributing to results. They ensure incremental improvements towards the greater goals are noticed and rewarded.

6. Persistence and consistency. Once a course is set, leaders are patient with monitoring, tracking and the follow-up. They are able to make timely interventions because of solid performance factors in place, and are able to spot early warning signs. They are consistent and principled in their decisions and create a safe environment for feedback and sharing – their people don’t feel as if they are walking on eggshells.

7. Make human beings their number one priority. They view their people as a true asset, going beyond lip service to publicly prioritising and enforcing in their management teams outcomes around people management such as engagement, wellbeing, rewards, growth and recognition. They understand the role that businesses play in developing strong communities and sustainable skills, and ensuring this permeates throughout the organisation.

I have never seen a great leader who is mean and vindictive.
8. They are not disingenuous. They do not underestimate others. They are authentic and do not try to hoodwink you with rationale which a child can see through. They can see through your disingenuity, so don’t try that with them! It is so refreshing to be yourself with such leaders. If you’ve ever had an Avatar, “I see you” moment, this happens often with great leaders. They are not scared to show humour, vulnerability, confusion, strength, and indeed, the gamut of human emotions. Lovely.

9. Benevolence and fairness. Their intentions are benevolent, fair and always for the greater good. Always. Period. I have never seen a great leader who is mean and vindictive. Their energy is always used to move forward and onward. Never wasted on revenge and personal gripes. They have a profound human understanding and admit the part they had to play in how things unfold, and as a result, their actions are fair and appropriate to the deed. However, they are quick to act if they perceive a threat to the vision and results.

10. Trust. They trust their management and teams to do what they are paid to do, and manage by results. They do not interfere and undermine their teams, thereby allowing for greatness, personal growth and experiential learning. They are not threatened by greatness in others, but relish it. They build an organisation of open communication, yet instil a respect for roles and role accountability. But, they have their ear to the ground and will swiftly and effectively address poor behaviours before their impact becomes widespread.

Great leaders hire great people and create an environment of positivity and hope. They are not afraid to lose “friends” in order to win the battle for merit, talent and sustainability.

Image: provided