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The 4 Prerequisites for Leadership Excellence

By Perry Holley | February 22, 2023
The 4 Prerequisites for Leadership Excellence

When you think of a leader you admire and would follow without question, what characteristics define that person? Most likely, the qualities that stand out to you reflect how this person makes you feel. While their competency in the role is essential, their ability to connect with your emotions increases the amount of influence they have with you.

In their leadership classic The Leadership Challenge, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner shared what they considered to be the four prerequisite qualities for leadership: honest, competent, inspiring, and forward-looking.

1. HONEST.

Almost everyone agrees that the people on your team are watching you all the time. What are they watching for? They are watching your actions, your reactions, your interactions, and your behaviors. These followers are trying to determine whether or not they want to give you permission to influence or lead them. Who you are, your character, determines each of these easily observable actions.

James Faust said, “Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.” When you are honest with the people you hope to influence, there is no sign of deception or misrepresentation. You embrace truth in all you do or say.

2. COMPETENT.

No matter how strong your EQ (emotional intelligence) is, you won’t be leading long if your IQ is lacking. People are not positively influenced by a leader who is not competent in the job. Continuing to work on your competence in the role is something many leaders fail to do. John Maxwell says that change is inevitable, but growth is optional. If you hope to grow your influence with others, you must intentionally grow yourself.

3. INSPIRING.

Author Dr. Jack Zenger says the skill of inspiring and motivating others is different for leaders who drive and demand results. Instead of pushing people to achieve, inspirational leaders know how to pull people in the right direction. According to Dr. Zenger, pushing includes giving detailed directions, telling people what to do, and driving toward a deadline, whereas pulling is when a leader describes what’s needed, explains why, seeks input from others about how to accomplish the task, and asks if they are willing to take it on. Inspiring leaders are in demand.

4. FORWARD-LOOKING.

John Maxwell says, “A leader is one who sees more than others see, sees farther than others see, and sees before others do.” Great leaders not only envision a future worth having, but also bring people and resources together to move in that direction. To do this, leaders must be well-read, well-studied, and well-prepared to navigate the constantly changing landscape. 

Perform a quick self-assessment. How are you doing regarding honesty, competence, inspiration, and forward-looking vision? If you struggle with honesty, you must deal with that immediately. The other three won’t matter if people cannot trust you.

About Perry Holley

Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with Maxwell Leadership, as well as a published author. As co-host of the Maxwell Leadership Executive Leadership Podcast, he has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.

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