What Makes a Leader?

In his research at nearly 200 large, global companies, Daniel Goleman found that while the qualities traditionally associated with leadership—such as intelligence, toughness, determination, and vision—are required for success, they are insufficient. Truly effective leaders are also distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill.  These qualities may sound “soft” and unbusinesslike, but Goleman found direct ties between emotional intelligence and measurable business results.

Hence, Daniel Goleman’s famous quote, ‎”IQ and technical skills are important, but emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership.”  Here’s an overview of his classic article, “What Makes a Leader?”

What is My Calling?

There is the leader one is and the leader one is meant to be.  According to Richard Leider, the key to having these two leaders meet is asking the difficult question, “What is my calling?”  Asking this question requires courage to look inside oneself, identify one’s strengths and talents, and explore how to offer those strengths and talents to others.  Recognizing one’s own calling is only the first step, however, truly great leaders are able to recognize the potential in those they serve and help them discover the leader they are meant to be as well.

Leider defines calling as “the inner urge to give our gifts away.”  Therefore, when one asks “What is my calling?” he is really asking, “What gifts do I possess, and how can I offer these gifts the world?”  Answering this question requires a lot of introspection and honesty.  It also emphasizes the principle that good leadership starts with the self.

One’s own life must be transformed, one’s own questions answered, before one can hope to successfully lead others.  As the old adage tells us, “One cannot give away what one does not possess.”  It is only after one takes the time to explore his or her own strengths and stewardship of those strengths that one’s full potential can be reached.

After understanding one’s own strengths and talents, true leadership requires the ability to help one’s followers identify their strengths and talents.  Why?  Because a great leader knows and responds to the differences in calling and gifting among the people he or she serves.  This allows the leader to pull together a team whose sum is exponentially greater than all its parts.  Or, as strengths expert Marcus Buckingham puts it, “There are no well-rounded leaders, only well-rounded leadership teams.”

In the end, asking oneself “What is my calling?” is the key to unleashing the vast potential inside oneself, and then, inside others.  It is the key to transforming the leader one currently is into the leader one was designed to be, and the results are sure to be remarkable.

*Richard Leider, “Is Leading Your Calling?” from Leader to Leader, Winter, 2004.