Qualities of good leadership

As a prospective or sitting board member, you need to think carefully about your own role in inspiring others to achieve an outcome for your community group and the community as a whole.

Everyone has a different idea of what makes a good leader. However, most agree that merely having a particular job or position doesn't define a good leader – it is more about a person's ability to work with people and motivate them to achieve an outcome. A true leader has the ability to inspire and gain respect while setting and achieving goals.

Or as Sir Gustav Nossal, a great Australian community leader, scientist, thinker and former Australian of the Year, put it:

"Community leadership is the courage, creativity and capacity to inspire participation, development and sustainability for strong communities."

What are some of the top qualities of a good leader?

Not everyone is cut out to be a leader and not everyone is cut out to be the same sort of leader. An AFL footballer might be a leader among footballers but not cut out for the captain's job. The captain might be a wonderful captain but a dreadful coach. And the coach might be the best coach ever but that doesn't necessarily make him a CEO.

As we have already mentioned, it is very difficult to define just what makes a good leader, although there are some common traits that most people agree upon.

  • Self-awareness: Knowledge of your own values, passions, skills, strengths and weaknesses. An ability to admit and learn from mistakes and to seek information to fill knowledge gaps.
  • Integrity: A strong sense of "what is right" and a demonstration of ethical practices that sets the tone for others. A commitment to teaching by example.
  • Courage: The strength to act in accordance with your own values and the greater good despite pressures pushing you in other directions. The ability to put the cause before the desire to be popular.
  • Confidence: A belief in your ability to meet most challenges that come your way.
  • Vision: A strong sense of where you are going as a person and where you think society, your community and your organisation should be going – and how it might get there.
  • Enthusiasm: A lively interest in the people, issues and events around you, a feeling of excitement about the possibilities, and the energy to guide them towards fruition.
  • Innovation: The ability to "think outside the box," take risks and develop new and effective solutions to old and emerging problems.
  • Wisdom: Intelligence coupled with insight and empathy, as opposed to raw intelligence.
  • Adaptability: A willingness to be flexible and to respond quickly and effectively to changing circumstances, along with a commitment to continual learning – formal and informal – and the ability to put that learning into practice.
  • Strong inter-personal skills: An ability to interact and work harmoniously with others, while being prepared to take on individual responsibilities.
  • Effective communication: A willingness and ability to listen to and understand the thoughts, ideas and concerns of others and to clearly communicate your own. A vision is nothing if it can't be sold to others.
  • Belief in others: The desire to build the capabilities of others, praise them where appropriate, go into bat for them when appropriate, provide them with helpful feedback and motivate them to do their best.
  • Peer respect: An ability to inspire respect, allowing a person to capably lead discussions, maintain discipline and encourage the contribution of others.
  • Insight: The ability to see the big picture, coupled with a strong sense of what stage you are at along the path, and intuit problems before they arise or before they become insurmountable.
  • Sense of humour: The ability to laugh at yourself and relieve tense or stressful situations with humour.
  • Competence: Others are unlikely to follow the lead of a person who does not appear to know what s/he is doing.
  • Delegation skills: A willingness to trust others and cede some responsibility.

Can leadership be taught?

It seems no one can agree on whether or not leaders are born or bred. Some believe that leadership skills are with us when we are born – or not – and no amount of training will make us rise to the challenge if the "leadership gene" is absent. Others take the view that leadership skills can be at least be enhanced, if not developed from scratch, by experience, training, mentoring and circumstance. All it takes is for a person to step forward or step up.

Whatever the case, if you are already on or thinking of joining a community group board, chances are you either have the "gene" or you're willing to give it a go, to "put your head above the parapet" as the distinguished Australian leader Justice Michael Kirby has put it. And making that decision in itself might go a long way to defining what makes for a good community leader.