It seems like everybody who has ever been a CEO for more than a few years, or has been a long-time coach of winning football or basketball teams, has the answer to what makes an effective leader. Rather than distorted self-perceptions and revisionist history, I prefer evidence-based conclusions. For this I defer to Kouzes and Posner who report on extensive research and analysis in their book, The Leadership Challenge (In its 4th edition!). They have data from over 300,000 managers in more than 60 countries.
In an interview by Management-Issues, Jim Kouzes talks about the essence of effective leadership. He said that there is solid evidence that certain leadership practices are more effective than other practices. He and Posner have concluded that effective leaders have four key qualities:
1) High integrity. People look for leaders who are honest and reliable.
2) Vision. Effective leaders are forward-looking and can communicate that vision to others.
3) Team players. They foster collaboration and build trust over the long term. A command and control form of leadership might work in the short term and might even be needed in a crisis situation but it fails over the long term.
4) Optimistic and enthusiastic. They inspire others to act.
Kouzes and Posner believe that these leadership qualities can be learned. To them it is a matter of training and development and not a result of innate gifts. And, of course, they have books, videos, assessment instruments, and workshops to teach these skills and abilities. I assume their materials are high quality, as are other leadership training providers (for example, see the Advantage Performance Group). But effective leadership doesn’t develop in isolation nor does it develop in the classroom. Training and development classes and workshops are only part of the process. To develop integrity, vision, collaboration, trust, and enthusiastic optimism, leaders need frequent feedback and reflection in addition to training. And it won’t happen by chance. Building a cadre of effective leaders in any organization takes intentionality and planning.