By Robert Brow   (www.brow.on.ca) Kingston, Ontario, January 2006

At the age of 81, I have been culling my card index. It has reminded me of leaders I enjoyed working with. Others I watched from a distance. In some cases I read comments that captured the qualities of great men and women.

This is my favorite. "A leader is best when people barely know he exists. Not so good when people obey and acclaim him. Worse when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little ,when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say : we did it ourselves." (Lao-Tse, about 565 BC).

Somehow my eight other  characteristics of greatness all begin with the letter C :

CARING "No person can be a true leader unless he takes genuine joy in the successes of those under him" (W.A.Nance). And Charles Dickens said "there is a great man who makes every man feel small. But the real great man is the man who makes every man feel great." The great leader will say, "That was superb. I really liked that." Without such caring, those who work with a leader lose interest, enthusiasm ebbs out.

CELEBRATION In a functional family, children enjoy the regularity of meals and birthdays, bed time rituals, story telling, fun times, and holidays. But we remain children at heart in the business of life. So a good leader values the traditions, and history, and stories of his people. Hard work is interspersed with times of celebration.

CHEERFULNESS We all hate the whining, miserable person. But we love the leader who smiles, laughs at himself, and has an optimistic outlook on what is happening.

CHOOSING A leader is only as great as those who work with him. That is why "A leader’s job is to find persons who have particular knowledge and skills, and then delegate responsibility to them" (Anne Wilson Schaff, Women’s reality, 1981). That is done by defining what is needed for the job, interviewing possible candidates, and picturing them as part of the team. But we are all imperfect, and a great leader can recognize a weakness, and still trust us to develop into excellence.

CLARITY Nobody enjoys working for someone who is muddle headed. We may not always agree with a great leader, but he or she must have a clear picture of what has to be done immediately, see several steps ahead, and define the final result to be achieved.

COMMUNICATION Clarity of vision does not help if the leader cannot communicate it warmly, lovingly, and preferably with good humor. This kind of communication needs constant contact in informal meetings, phone calls, and in passing by with a smile and a sign of recognition. And the communication must be two-way with the leader listening carefully to what each person wants to say.

COUNSEL The need to take counsel is not the same as government by majority vote. The good leader likes to hear alternative solutions, discover the desires of all concerned, and then seeks a solution which will satisfy as many as possible. As far as possible the great leader has already achieved agreement about a new direction before the decision is published.

COURAGE Having listened to others, and then decided on what has to be done, the good leader has the courage to act. That will often be very risky if things do not turn out as expected. But nobody trusts the person who cares about preserving status and reputation at any price.

COURTESY Great leaders know how to respect the dignity of the least of those who work with them. Nobody should be humiliated. There is a right way and a wrong way to administer discipline.

CREATIVITY People long to escape from boredom and routine. They appreciate leaders who are open to unexpected insights, new ways of doing things. Like artists and musicians, great leaders are not afraid of change, variety, playfulness. They can be quirky without losing their dignity.


P.S. I am an Anglican (Episcopal) minister, and I have served for over fifty years in six different countries. "What do you know about leadership? You just preach and tell others what to do." Here is something I wrote in 1962. "The work of a good pastor is the highest form of leadership, since he commands a following without any kind of financial or compulsive authority over the led. Further he has to lead his flock to an invisible destination for an invisible reward and that against the opposition and scorn of the majority of their neighbors."

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