The Nature Of Leadership Growth – Key Traits – Part One
Great leadership is about not being complacent. It is about wanting to move forward. The desire to learn and grow is central to generating that forward momentum.
Growth is fundamental to leadership. People often question me about why I continue studying. Their belief is that I don’t need it. The reason I keep on looking for new opportunities to learn is that I want to keep growing. Even in areas where I could be considered highly skilled, I’m looking for something that I didn’t know.
Lifelong learning is widely recognised as being of great importance. It can be summarised as ‘a continuously supportive process which stimulates and empowers individuals to acquire all the knowledge, values, skills and understanding they will require throughout their lifetimes and to apply them with confidence, creativity and enjoyment in all roles, circumstances and environment’ .
When studying for my MBA, I found something unique and learned something amazing in almost every subject. Even in the subjects that I hadn’t believed would be useful, because I knew through practice rather than theory how to make them work for me.
I understood accountancy, but through study, I learned how to read numbers better and how to use cheat sheets around ratios. Managerial finance was epic. Even though I had previously worked in that sector, I gained a greater depth of familiarity with the language.
Learning is not just about facts, figures and techniques, though. I also learned a new level of self-confidence and self-belief, as a result of the lead professor using my work on spreadsheet analysis as a guide for other people taking the course.
The real beauty is that through this growth and continuous improvement, I have been able to apply what I learned directly to my leadership of what has become one of our biggest land development projects to date.
Great leadership isn’t only about your own growth. It’s also about demonstrating how others can grow. It doesn’t mean requiring others to emulate you, it means showing them the qualities that they can then apply to their own lives to create positive change. As Ganta & Manukonda state, it’s all about ‘motivating, motivating, and motivating’ 
However, in order to demonstrate to others the benefits and possibilities that arise as the result of growth to, you need to work on yourself. And the first step to growing as a leader is to develop your key traits.
So, what are the key leadership traits?
Right at the top of that list is awareness. Awareness of the your external world, but also self-awareness. If you lack self-awareness, then you won’t be able to recognise which traits you naturally possess and can develop independently, and which traits you struggle with and require external help to master.
Decisiveness – If you are a person who sits on the fence, then you are never going to get anyone to follow you voluntarily. You have to know your own mind and have the ability to communicate your thoughts clearly to those around you.
Empathy – One of the lessons I instil in my younger managers, the ones who want to grow into leaders, is that they must have empathy. There are people in this world who need your help. They might not be the best people, but they need your help. You need to give them a lifeline.
As a leader, you will almost certainly find that there are times when you have members of staff who are going through difficulties in their personal lives. It is part of your role to work with them.
As well as being the right thing to do, by looking after your people you create a culture where they recognise that you are there for them when they’re doing it tough, which makes it much more likely that they will want to reciprocate and give back when you need them to make the extra effort. And then it builds, becoming an ever-increasing spiral of loyalty and trust.
These three traits are just the beginning, but they have already revealed a great deal about the fundamentals of great leadership. The next article continues to explore key traits, looking in more detail at what matters and why.
- Bryce, J., Frigo, T., McKenzie, P. & Withers, G. (2000). The era of lifelong learning: Implications for secondary schools. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research; Longworth, N. & Davies, W. K. (1996) Lifelong Learning. Kogan Page, London
- Ganta, V. C., & Manukonda, J. K. (2014). Leadership during change and uncertainty in organizations. International Journal of Organizational Behaviour & Management Perspectives, 3 (3), 1183-1190.