Anecdotal evidence is dangerous. But current events (micro and macro level) beg the question: Just when we need it the most, where has real leadership gone?

Significant global unrest appears perpetual. Economic crisis inhibits dialogue around everything from national initiatives to local education. Infrastructures that facilitate so much of what is deemed essential seem stretched beyond reasonable limits.

Yet, those seated in the centers of power – political, social, private enterprise, all – seem impotent when it comes to effecting positive change.

Where is the brand of leadership that sees beyond its own street, neighborhood or village? Do leaders anywhere possess a world view born of an understanding that, while each community is made up of a multitude of perspectives, the threads of shared aspirations are strong enough to bind us together.

Without respect to your sphere of relationships, influence and operation, if you run into a leader that meets the following criteria you’ll be ahead of the game if you tap into their experience and perspective. If you own or run a company, hire them. This kind of leadership is, at best, a lost art.

Characteristics of a Leader

  1. Big Picture Perspective. Whether a Manager, an occupant of the C-Suite, or a representative of “the people,” leadership cultivates and maintains perspective that transcends personal or parochial opinions and experiences. Driving an agenda rooted in narrow interests rarely gives rise to significant and lasting change.
  2. Doesn’t Roam the Neighborhood Marking Fire Hydrants. If you’re searching for leadership, run when you encounter someone that invests time staking out territory. This never goes hand-in-hand with collaboration and consensus building.
  3. Builds Teams. Leadership understands, whether intuitively or experientially, that winning requires a team. From governments to corporate giants to garage entrepreneurs, the best leaders rally support and leverage resources. They do not operate on (or seek to “mark”) an island. Leaders who do not believe in the greater potential of a team should be relieved of duty. Fire ‘em. (By the way, the ability to build teams goes hand-in-hand with accepting responsibility — versus blaming all ills on the shortcomings of someone else.)
  4. Possess and Inspire Vision. A verse in Proverbs observes that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” If you wonder whether you are a leader or whether your enterprise has leaders in every area, look for the vision. The absence of vision equates to the absence of leadership. On the other hand, the ability to inspire vision is linked to the ability to identify and tap into shared aspirations.
  5. Values Listening and Learning over Hyperbole. Somewhere along the line we began to think of personal charisma and the ability to articulate a message as earmarks of a great leader. We manage to overlook that these characteristics have been shared by some of history’s greatest scam artists. This is not to demean the importance of being able to communicate. Rather, it is to remind us that what we most need in leaders today – the ability to find common ground between multiple diverse experiences, collaborative skills, a visionary perspective – are grounded in understanding. And understanding comes from listening. Have someone masquerading as a leader, but unwilling to collaborate and listen? Fire ‘em.

We select leaders in a number of different ways, depending on the venue. But perhaps one of the reasons leadership seems in short supply in so many circles is that we have forgotten what it looks like. Charisma, titles, access, economic might – none of these, leaders make.

What would you add to this list of characteristics?