Chan Master Fuchan Yuan wrote, “There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage.” After more than three decades of consulting to and training over one thousand leaders of a variety of different type and sized organizations, I could probably count on one hand (and still have some fingers left) the number of organizational leaders I have met that possess all three of these attributes.
1. Humility when it refers to leadership is the ability to place an organization before one’s ego, and to not require constant adulation and congratulations. Too many individuals in leadership positions seem to need and desire that ” ‘atta boy” type pat on the bat. In addition, one can never be an effective leader if one does not develop somewhat of a “thick skin,” and does not get easily insulted, or “put out.” As I have taught countless leaders and potential leaders, it can be awfully lonely “at the top,” and anyone that truly wants to be an effective leader must either possess or develop “the patience of a saint.” The reality of leadership is that there will always be some people who are not satisfied, and want to criticize and blame you, regardless of the facts. A great leader is a humble leader. Perhaps the definition that I believe is most descriptive of humility is that on Wikipedia, which states that “Humility is the quality of being modest, reverential, even obsequiously submissive, and never being arrogant, contemptuous, rude or even self- aggrandizing.”
2. Leadership clarity is a combination of having a vision, and being able to effectively communicate that vision to others. However, it is actually far more than that. It is having a true belief in one’s vision, and being so enthusiastic and clear on its intent, that one can motivate others to follow you and adopt your vision as theirs. Clarity also means that the vision must be accompanied with a distinct and comprehensive plan, and with a cause and effect that clearly shows others why certain actions are being urged. When a leader has clarity, he avoids the common risk of miscommunication or under- communication, and thus must do his homework to assure that first he fully understands the goals he wishes to achieve from his vision, the ramifications of the action (and alternatively the risks of either acting or procrastinating), and true integrity to communicate a consistent, honest, and trust- earning message repeatedly.
3. Effective leaders are courageous leaders. True leaders must have the courage to dare to achieve things that are needed, and to speak out for his beliefs, without waiting first for the “pack” to speak up. Obviously, this means that true leaders must not waver in their beliefs, or vacillate in their message.
The difficult part of these three essentials is that while many other needs of a leader may be acquired through training, experience, education, etc., these are character traits and must be a genuine part of a leader’s persona.