In the management field, the literature on leadership is extensive. The six qualities described in this article are linked to approaches such as servant leadership, authentic leadership and responsible leadership. These six traits are inspired by my book on applied ethics called Cap al cor del món (‘Getting to the heart of things’).
1/ Self-demanding attitude
A self-demanding attitude is good for getting results, but it can also create frustration, dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Good leaders are aware of this risk and choose to lead projects that inspire them, that are aligned with their values, and for which they have a natural ability and inspiration. Inspiration provides leaders with a clear-mindedness that allows them to manage stress appropriately.
2/ Learning from failure
Good leaders accept failure. They know how to ask themselves the right questions about what triggered their failure and how to use that mistake as a learning opportunity. Distinguishing between different levels of failure – failure in setting objectives, failure in choosing the right tools to reach the objectives, failure in personal stress management – enriches the learning process. In good leaders, failure ultimately awakens solidarity with those members of society who have failed and need help. This makes them better leaders.
Children are the greatest example of authenticity because they do not wear a mask. As we grow older, wearing a mask becomes something of a social requirement. Good leaders know when and where they can remove their masks. In certain friendly contexts, showing authenticity can be a way for a leader to receive sincere advice and build powerful teams. These teams can then help the leader rest and reorient his or her life and priorities. As the Asian proverb says, “If you want to go fast, walk alone; if you want to go far, walk with others.”
When something bad happens to us, we tend to fall prey to negative emotions. Good leaders know how to deal with these negative thoughts and accept them, thus avoiding frustration and anger. If anger manages to spread into the organization and the leader’s team, it is negative for everyone. Acceptance maintains inner peace and allows leaders to make good decisions together with their team.
Putting yourself in other people’s shoes can be emotionally exhausting. Good leaders sincerely empathise with others: their outward joy and compassion is not fake. As the Italian-Chinese Jesuit Matteo Ricci put it in the 16th century: “When vulgar friends meet, their outward pleasure is greater than their inward happiness... When virtuous friends gather, their inward happiness is greater than their outward pleasure.” (On Friendship)
Nevertheless, good leaders know how to separate themselves from others’ emotions, for it is impossible to help others if you succumb to negative thoughts.
6/ Take the long view
If you were about to die, would you be happy about what you have done in life or would you have regrets? To achieve happiness both at work and in life, try to imagine that you are 90 years old. How you would like to have lived? Live accordingly. Good leaders want to live according to their inner values.
Professor Josep F. Mària, is the author of the book Cap al cor del món (‘Getting to the heart of things’), Ed. Claret, Barcelona, 2016.