The Characteristics and Attributes of Successful Leaders

Nishat Group is one of the most diversified business groups in South-east Asia, leading in Textiles, Cement and Financial Services, Mian Muhammad Mansha, the CEO, speaks about his success in the Textile sector:

“I realized early on, maybe better than some of my competitors did, that a textile business can run profitably only if you have scale. I decided to expand horizontally and vertically, by adding everything from spinning, dyeing, weaving, and stitching to processing and packing. By the time I left, we even had a large school and our own railway station within the factory.”

we have conducted various leadership workshops for companies all over Pakistan. The customary starting point for such workshops is to ask the participants what their view regarding skills and attributes of a successful leader are—at the same time, we ask them who they consider to have been outstanding leaders both in Pakistan and across the globe.

During initial discussions within the workshop groups, the focus is on leaders in general; just the basics. We then gradually ease into the specifics of business leaders. It is crucial for us, as the workshop facilitators, to understand what these groups identify as leadership skills and attributes, so that we can eventually move on to discussing the real qualities of successful business leaders in Pakistan.

By and large the outcome of interactions, even with a wide range of participants, is very similar. They often perceive good leaders to include the following qualities:
  • Have a vision / Integrity
  • Strength of character / Focus
  • Excellent communication skills
  • High degree of intelligence
  • Ability to make effective decisions
  • Strategic thinking /  Foresight
  • Ability to build rapport with people
  • Determination / High level of motivation
  • Ability to inspire people towards a common goal

As you would have noticed, the above-mentioned list is a combination of hard as well as soft skills. Daniel Goleman, an internationally respected psychologist and the author of Emotional Intelligence, confirmed through his research that to be a successful leader one needs to have a high degree of Emotional Intelligence. Until this research was published it was generally believed that to be successful as a leader, the most important ingredient was the IQ or intelligence, along with the individual’s technical know-how.

It is hardly surprising that since the role of a leader has more to do with inspiring, motivating and directing people, there must be a high degree of emotional intelligence present in order to exercise that role effectively. Neither intelligence nor technical ability will compensate for an obvious lack of commitment from the followers. Therefore, even the best strategies would not work if the leader is not able to galvanize the support of his entire team towards a common theme or a set of goals. It is for this reason that many highly intelligent leaders often fail in their attempts to build a successful organization, despite having the right mix of strategy and other ingredients within their companies.

Similarly, when we ask for a list of leaders that people respect for their achievements from all over the world, the names that often come up include:

  • Mr. Jinnah—always the first name mentioned in the context of Pakistani leadership.
  • Winston Churchill—for his inspirational leadership during World War II.
  •  Nelson Mandella—for uniting the diverse races of South Africa under one identity despite many personal sacrifices.
  •  Bill Clinton—for presiding over the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in the American history with the result that he left office with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any U.S. president since the Second World War.
  •  Mohatir Mohammad—for the progress achieved in Malaysia
  •  Lee Kwan Yu—for building Singapore into a dynamic, forward-looking country.
  •  Mahatama Gandhi—generally not revered in Pakistan, however highly regarded in the rest of the world for his leadership movement against the British Empire.
  •  Imran Khan—for his social entrepreneurship as well as his captaincy on the field with the cricket team.
  •  Abdul Sittar Edhi—for outstanding social work and the Edhi Foundation.
  •  Mohammad Younus—for changing the life of millions of people through the Microfinance network of Grameen Bank.
  •  Bill Gates—for building Microsoft into one of the most successful companies in the history of the world.
  •  Steve Jobs—for his vision and commitment towards transforming Apple into a company that continues to surpass our expectations.
  •  Ingvar Kamprad—for his successful and innovative model of IKEA furniture stores.