Most people would agree that no two great leaders are alike. The question is: at what point does someone become a great leader? I believe an extraordinary leader in today’s world is someone whose capacity for change exceeds that of his or her circumstances. Someone who is capable of influencing situations and stakeholders, exhibiting a range of personal characteristics for which any situation may call, and who knows within which boundaries they find their strength and rejuvenation to sustain this capacity. In the unpredictability of today’s environment, more and more leaders are searching for a facilitated path to a personal way of leadership – one that can expand their capacity to balance rational judgment and tact with internal wisdom and objectivity in the midst of the intensity and complexity of their business and political landscapes. So the best preparation for a leadership role is to equip ourselves with a toolbox that will enable us to consistently perform as great leaders throughout a range of groups, different contexts and new situations.
Thus, if we were instead of discussing three qualities of a good leader, to discuss the three circumstantial factors that bring about great leadership, we find that anyone can be a great leader in his or her own right, given the particular circumstances that bring out their highest leadership potential. In other words, the effectiveness of a great leader depends on the people, the context and the situation in which they are challenged to their highest leadership potential.
A leader cannot exist without followers. A leader that emerges out of a group of people does so at the acceptance of the rest of the group members because of their belief in that person’s influential capacity and ability to improve their situation. They will seek someone to whom they can relate, whom they trust to support them in reaching their goals or solve their problems better than themselves, so some leaders will be more effective with certain people than others.
Effective leadership also depends on contextual factors, such as the environment, resources and stakeholders. How a leader interacts with and affects the environment, makes use of resources and manages stakeholders is critical, so some leaders may be more effective in certain contexts than others.
As a range of situations will significantly affect an organisation, such as growth or slowdown, financial crisis, or natural disaster, their leader has to be prepared to exhibit the right qualities to tackle a given situation. Hence, some leaders may be more effective in certain situations than others.
The way we impact others, draw on our resources and behave in situations sets the foundation for our leadership capacity. When you enter into any leadership role, you bring with you a range of experiences and insights from your whole life that make up who you are in this particular moment. And so you will into every future position to which you rise. As there are more than one solution to every problem, you can prepare yourself for the variety of challenges that a leadership role might entail, by having a clear sense of your own unique set of gifts you bring to the role.
Below is an exercise that has been much appreciated by people I have coached throughout the years.
Think about all the roles you have held through life that have been or are significant to you. This extends beyond professional roles such as, so include roles you have had in your personal life.
1. On a sheet of paper, make five columns named role, people, context, situations and qualities. List your roles in the first column. For example, your list could include Supervisor, Subordinate, Team member, Analyst, Client relationship manager, Board or Committee Member, Husband or Wife, Parent, Brother or Sister, Son or Daughter, Coach, Sports Team Member, Athlete, Caretaker, Friend, Teacher, or Student.
2. Once you have listed all the roles that come to mind, begin working with the second column by asking yourself: Who else was/is involved? What was/is important to them? How did I fulfill their values and/or needs through this role?
3. Once you have listed the values and needs you fulfilled in others, work with the third column by going through each role and asking yourself: What was/is the context? What was/is the purpose of the role in that context? If it’s a personal role, think of what that role means to you and define the sense of purpose it has for you.
4. For the fourth column, think of specific situations you faced in this role that required you to take responsibility or leadership action. Ask yourself: What were those situations? How did I tackle them?
5. For the last column, take some time to go through each role and ask yourself: Which qualities did this role bring out of me? Which skills have I developed as a result of this role? What words of wisdom would I share with someone who was new in this role?
What you now have in your hand is your very own unique leadership toolbox, which you bring with you into every new role you take on. Whatever the new role requires of you, and whatever new situations you may face in this capacity, you can now draw from your whole array of qualities and skills and wisdom to continuously enable your highest leadership potential.