What is the most important quality or characteristic of great leaders?
I once posted a question on Facebook asking my friends and colleagues this very question. The answers ran the gamut from honesty and integrity to fairness and fun. I even sparked a bit of a debate, with responders vehemently defending their vote. One quality that kept popping up intrigued me, and that quality was ‘courage.’
Social media responders including business professionals, entrepreneurs, and successful leaders felt that this is THE one most important quality of a great leader. Some felt that many of the other characteristics listed are important for anyone to have, but that to be a truly great leader, one must have courage.
Years ago I had the privilege of hearing Nando Parado speak at a National Speakers Association conference. While you might not recognize his name, you may recall his story. And what a story it is! In 1972, a charter plane carrying Nando’s Uruguayan rugby team and a few family members crashed deep in the remote, snowy mountains of the Andes. For 72 days, the world assumed they were all dead. The survivors endured unimaginable cold (many had never seen snow before), starvation, and an avalanche. They finally resorted to cannibalism to survive.
Nando, after recovering from a severe head injury and learning that both his mother and sister had died, as well as several friends, quickly assumed a leadership role. No one assigned this role to him, or gave him a title. He simply saw a need and stepped up to the plate. Ultimately, young Nando, (he was only 22 at the time), decided he was not going to wait to be found, and, with a teammate, set off to find help. Nando told his teammate Roberto that there was no going back. While they might die making the trek, they would die trying. They hiked for 10 days until they found a Chilean farmer who summoned rescuers.
The story of Nando Parrado has fascinated me since I heard it as a young girl. Being able to hear him tell it in person was incredibly moving. I was especially struck by his unbelievable will to live and his courage. I know that I wasn’t the only person listening to him wondering if I would have had a fraction of his courage in a similar situation.
Yes, to be an effective leader, you must have many qualities, but courage is right at the top of the list. Why? As some of my responders pointed out, a leader must have courage to make the tough decisions. They must have the courage to get under the surface layer and get to the “tough stuff,” like people problems. A great leader will have the courage to go first, to be a model for others. Nando Parrado exemplifies those qualities in my book.
Here’s hoping that your courage will never be tested in a life-and-death situation the way that Nando’s was.
What do you think is the most important quality of a great leader?
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Jennifer Ledet, CSP, is a leadership consultant and professional speaker (with a hint of Cajun flavor) who equips leaders from the boardroom to the mailroom to improve employee engagement, teamwork, and communication. In her customized programs, leadership retreats, keynote presentations, and breakout sessions, she cuts through the BS and talks through the tough stuff to solve your people problems.