7 core qualities of a sustainable leader

It is always a big challenge for most of us, living, working and ultimately seeking for our own happiness in this modern world with constant and fierce changes. In this article, I’m about to share with you 7 core qualities of a great leader that I’ve learned from my own journey in the last 20 years. It does not only help to develop myself, but also make me become a leader with great influence and an inspiring source of motivation for about 1000 staff at KMS Technology Vietnam, which is the company I co-founded, built and grow it up from scratch 12 years ago under the role of Managing Director.

A sustainable success always comes from a cohesive team. Team cohesiveness, in turn, is originated from healthy, positive and meaningful relationships of team members, alongside with a team culture based upon trust foundation. Trust must start from the leader of the team or the organization. Now, the question is what are the core qualities that a leader need to possess to greatly play his role of “leading”, in short term as well as long term which I would call it “sustainable”? Here are the 7.

Maintain integrity on top of ethics at all cost

The very first quality I have learned, and it is also the pre-requisite for any great leaders, is integrity conducted on the foundation of ethics. To my understanding, integrity is the consistency of your thoughts, acts, and talks. I.e. do what you say and say what you do. Keep your promise, instead of promising one thing, then do something else. It’s always hard to maintain this consistency in all the three of thoughts, acts, and talks. On the other note, ethics is quite big as a concept to explain and define. For me, ethical conduct means that harming nobody, including myself. An easier way to explain is that “do whatever you need to do during the day, so that you would have a good night sleep after all”.

The level of trust that people around you place on you would define the level of leadership you are placing on them.

So, the very first quality, which is also the founding principle of a great leader, is the consistency in the thoughts, acts, and talks on the base of ethics. Sincerity, honesty, and humankind are certainly inclusive from this word of integrity. It’s not easy that we can always keep this word of integrity in a complete and perfect manner. We do make mistakes. That’s how we “learn” many meaningful lessons for our own and for the organization. Then, we need to commit to ourselves not to repeat the mistakes in the future. Gradually, after continuously and patiently practicing like that, you can naturally live this core value of integrity. Also note that, once recruiting your staff or your partners, this word of integrity is the critical pre-requisite. I don’t think we can compromise any short of this word from our staff or our partners.

From this foundation of integrity, what we gain would be enormous. Whoever has a chance to meet me at the first time, they would see that it seems like I’m trustable, through my sharing and my talks. And of course, that trust is somewhat subjective and it is like the feeling on the surface. Then, if you continue observing my talks and my acts in a period of 6-12 months and see that I do what I say and I say what I do, certainly, the trust you have for me is advanced to a higher level, the next level. Because of that, there is no doubt that my talks have much more influence to you. If you have more time to work with me and see that my acts and talks are originally from my positive thinking, in order to overcome challenges and to contribute to the success of everyone and harmless to no one, including me, I’m sure that you would place a complete trust on me and listen to my advices or suggestions. Those are 3 levels of leadership that you can attain.

In a simple way, leadership is defined as the positive influence that you can have to others (I borrow this from John C. Maxwell. I added the word “positive” in front of influence). In another word, leadership is about people allow you to lead them, agree with your decisions or directions that you pick for the team and for the company. To earn that, you need to gain trust from your staff. The level of trust that people around you place on you would define the level of leadership you are placing on them.

At the highest level of trust, once people see your integrity which is the consistency in all of your thoughts, acts, and talks, then that’s once you don’t even need a title, a position or formal authority to influence others. People listen to your suggestions or decisions simply because they trust your wholesomeness and your integrity, which they experience and see it from the deepest of your thoughts, acts, and talks – a sustainable trust.

Openness

The 2nd quality I would suggest for a great leader to possess is openness, the open at core in your mind. There are so many truth that we can’t change. If we can realize them, accept and abide to those truth, then our foundation for being open tends to be easier to develop. We are born into this world, growing up, growing old, and leaving away from this world ultimately. We’re always too little in front of Mother Nature, too small in front of the greatness and non-stop “operations” of everything around us. The knowledge about our body and our sickness is still very modest. And it’s much more complex to understand about the “operations” of our mind as well as the “operations” of relationships among people.

We only grow up, if we accept the fact that our knowledge and our understanding are still somewhat limited. Then, we can be that open to accept new things, curious to learn from our challenges and difficulties happening in our life each and every day. In the opposite direction, if we keep a closed mind, due to our over-confidence, due to our arrogance, due to our intelligence, we would be like a glass full of water. Can’t fill in more water. We can’t learn more of those things that are necessary for ourself to grow up. As a result of that, we would limit ourself from within our limited knowing. That certainly doesn’t promise any greatness for your life. If you’re serious with yourself and wish to develop yourself, you need to break out of that negative infinite loop of a closed mind.

Observation, respect, flexibility, and innovation

Establishing a solid foundation for openness is also the foundation to cultivate the next critical qualities for sustainable leadership: observation, respect, flexibility, and innovation.

I’ve realized that those successful people are those who have great observation of what’s happening in their industry. They’re greatly sensible not just in the industry they’re in, but also with life. No matter how much knowledge you’ve possessed, if you’re not sensible at work and in life, especially in the relationships with people around you, I don’t think you can have something called long-term success. In the opposite direction, you may not be well-trained and may not have a lot of knowledge, but if you have a great observation and your sense is great, I believe you would be successful. The key is that you can have better observation as well as more sensibility, if you can maintain an opening mind to learn and to be curious.

The truth is that we were born with just a few strengths, but quite many weaknesses. Therefore, in order to be successful at work as well as in life, most of the times we would need to have suitable partners who share with us the core values and at the same time have our missing strengths to complement us. Each of the people around us is carrying with him or her a certain meaning to our life. Somewhat, we “need” each other. That’s the reason why we need to respect everyone in the most humanities manner. Respect their good as well as their bad. Also respect our own goods and bad.

At work and in life, there seems to have too many suddens happening to us in the most … sudden manner. We plan one way, things happen the other way. We want to have great and stable customers and trusted partners, certainly. But nothing can 100% guarantee that it would happen. We need to keep reminding ourselves that everything is changing, nothing standing still. And if that is un-avoidable and if that is non-stop, it’s best that we can build for ourselves a flexibility in order to adapt and deal with changes in the most effective manner. Flexibility always clings with an open mind and the ability to observe things objectively. I believe that flexibility is the crucial DNA of any successful team, organization or person.

And last but not least, innovation. Once we non-stop being curious, learning, and exploring, innovation would be naturally developed. The simplest definition of innovation is “do differently”. I.e., we don’t follow the old path. With the same “task”, yet we do it differently and still gain the same result, if not better, with less effort and resource we have to spend. The key is that we need to have new ideas. And of course, ideas start from our curiosity, continuous exploring – from your openness to this world.

In brief, from the foundation of openness, we can build and develop our observation, our respect, our flexibility, and our innovation in the best manner.

Caring

The last core quality that a sustainable leader need to have is caring. In my opinion, we can only care for people around us in the right way, if we can do it for ourselves. I.e., we know how to care for ourself and we do it well for ourself. It’s only then, our caring for others is real, right, and meaningful.

The problem is that we are often so “lost” in projects, tasks, and work that we forget caring for our own health, forget cultivating and building a positive, strong but balanced mind for ourselves. We usually take the responsibility to care for our co-workers and our family, while we don’t even know how to do that for our own self. That’s really dangerous. This is similar to the reminder you usually hear on the airplane when taking off. We need to wear our own oxygen mask, before wearing it for children.

If you want to effectively lead others, you would need to be able to lead your own self first.

As a leader, you need to start from understanding about yourself and know how to care for yourself first. Once you can do that well, then it would come naturally the care for others, as a result, no forceful effort. Do you know what your strengths are? Your weaknesses? What would make you happy? What type of jobs would be suitable for you? What type of people would be suitable for you to work with? Do you communicate and adapt well with people around you, without losing your own self at the same time? What is your life’s purpose?

Two years ago, I withdrawn from the Managing Director position of a nearly 1000 people organization in order to spend more time to develop myself, which is mainly about spiritual development. The word “spiritual” may sound a bit mysterious and hard-to-understand. But in reality, that word only means understanding about ourself, more and more each passing day. There is an old saying like, “the toughest battle you’ll ever fight in your life is the battle within yourself.” That’s very true. Everything starts from our own. If you want to effectively lead others, you would need to be able to lead your own self first. If you want to effectively communicate with others, you would need to be able to communicate with you, yourself, first. If you want to effectively manage others, you would need to be able to manage your own self first. If you want to bring happiness to others, you would need to be able to find out your own happiness first. Therefore, my withdrawal from business is quite necessary for my own spiritual development journey, toward my happiness, I would say.

In summary, I would suggest that a great and sustainable leader need to acquire these 7 qualities of integrity based on ethics, openness, observation, respect, flexibility, innovation and caring, at the core. If you are a leader fully equipped with these qualities, I’m certain that you can “attract” those partners and colleagues who are compatible with those qualities. And that’s the composition of a great team. In addition, these core qualities also serve as the foundation for your team’s or your organization’s culture. That’s the foundation of humanities and cohesiveness. I believe that it’s only those cohesive team or organization who can achieve outstanding results. I also believe that if a leader patiently practices these 7 core qualities, personal success as well as team success would certainly wait at the end of the road.

Fortunately, the success doesn’t stop there at work. These 7 core qualities are also the foundation for your happiness, once you can have and maintain positive, healthy and meaningful relationships with people around you. The biggest reward of becoming a great leader lies beyond title, position, fame, financial benefit, … I would say. I think the biggest reward that you can gain from becoming a great leader is about the positive influence that you have place on the people around you. That’s the origin of infinite happiness for anyone.

Good luck!

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