Great LeadersBy Burkey Belser
November 1, 2001
What are the characteristics of a great leader, whether it's the leader of a design firm or a design team?
It's awkward for me to list the characteristics of a great leader and yet not possess them. But I think great leaders everywhere share common characteristics—the same ones I strive for.
Of course, great leaders believe in themselves but they must also believe in others—believe that those they have championed can become the leaders that replace them. And when they are disappointed—because only a few succeed—the leader still believes, still makes those choices. In this way, a leader is like a rock.
Do great leaders stick to a vision? I suspect so. Imagine, for example, "all men created equal." I don't have a long view. But my short view is crystal clear: "be true to the work." In this way, a leader is like a mule.
Great leaders are formed in service. They wash the windows then hand the sponge to someone else. Such satisfaction in clean windows! In this way, a leader is delighted with the results like a beginner.
Great leaders are decisive, willing to make the hard decisions others shrink from, willing to set the course lacking all the information necessary to do so, willing to be wrong and accept responsibility. In this way, a leader is like a knife.
Great leaders listen to all kinds of counsel, know how to value the counselor's advice, bring out the ideas of everyone in their orbit in order to glean the smallest flower as well as take the widest view. In this way, a leader is kind and soft, soft like a pillow.
Great leaders are lonely without regret. Not that a leader has no friends or family. Life would be insupportable at that price. Simply that leaders recognize the unavoidable distance between the leader and the led.( And, by the way, they must avoid the pleasure of gossip about those they lead. Some day! Some day!) In this way, a leader is like a prisoner in an oubliette. That's rough, but. . .
Great leaders laugh. Big, enormous laughs. In each laugh, all the love people can have for one another is released, arms are taken up and the troops go into battle. In this way, a leader is like your best friend. Heigh-ho.