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8 characteristics of excellent leaders

Leaders are not necessarily born, but made over time. To lead effectively requires a complex set of skills, along with a growing humility and grit to persevere in this life-long learning journey. In this Ziwani article former MEC of Finance NorthWest and businessman, Martin Kuscus, shares 8 characteristics that will help leaders to become more fruitful and influential over time. 

8 characteristics of excellent leaders


There are many definitions of leadership, but according to my understanding, you are a leader whenever you influence the attitudes, behaviour and development of other people. This can range from a father (who influences the attitudes, behaviour and development of his children), to a president (who has to influence the attitudes, behaviour and development of a nation).

But before we start thinking about how you can learn to excel in leadership, be truthful to yourself. Do you have a desire for leadership? In 2 Kings 2, we read about Elisha taking over the role of prophet from Elijah. Both knew that it was time for Elijah to be taken into heaven, and three times Elijah tried to get Elisha to stay behind, saying, “Please stay here…”  to which Elisha answered, “…I will not leave you.” Finally, Elijah asked him, “What shall I do for you, before I am taken from you?” to which Elisha replied, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” Elisha was determined to have the anointing he needed to serve the nation of Israel – he was ambitious in his calling. How hungry are you to excel in leadership? It is good to be ambitious in wanting to fulfil your purpose, in wanting to serve others well.

1)      The problem, however, lies in selfish ambition. In order to become excellent in leadership, the first thing you need to think about is the motivation of your heart. Do you have an overwhelming ambition to be seen, to be acknowledged? Are you motivated by a love of money, or do you want to serve a higher purpose? God’s Word is the ultimate standard of truth, and all your endeavours need to be calibrated against it. You need to understand that you have been placed in a specific position of authority by God, for His purposes. This is freeing, because it means you can be comfortable in your own skin and do not have to pretend to be someone you’re not.

2)     Secondly, ambition is closely related to your character. Reputation is what people think about you, but character is who you really are. Who are you when no one is watching? The reality is that what happens in your ‘inner chamber’, will ultimately determine how your life will turn out. Therefore, you need to pay close attention to maturing in your character.

3)     Third, you need (or need to develop) clarity of direction, or ‘vision’. Excellent leaders do not simply cruise through life, hoping to fall into the right opportunities – you need to plan where you want to lead your organisation to in a year’s time, and in five years’ time.

4)     Then, you need to be competent in your field of responsibility, which closely relates to empowering yourself through continuous learning. An excellent leader is someone who can get the job done! You need to have the necessary skills, and continue to empower yourself. Keep abreast of new developments in any sphere that you are involved in.

5)     Excellent leaders see the world through the lens of an ecosystem (not an ‘ego-system’). Connect with others in your field and learn from them – be honest and humble enough to know that you don’t know it all. There will be times when you will have to let your weaknesses be augmented by the strengths of others. And then there will be times when you will have to let your strengths compensate for the weaknesses of others. As an individual, you are limited in your own efforts, but in a collaboration, everyone achieves more.

6)     Developing your communication skills is key. Sometimes leaders can be so wrongfully right – saying the right things, in completely the wrong way. Excellent leaders have the rare ability to communicate their intentions in a persuasive and precise way, while also being graceful and inspiring.

7)     You need courage. Life is tough, and excellent leaders have the ability to move forward despite the obstacles. Where others see dead-ends, leaders see new possibilities – they draw from their life experience, and their belief that it can be done motivates their people towards action.

8)     Excellent leaders are consistent. It’s not what you do once in a while, it’s what you do every day that matters. Everything mentioned above, from maturing in character, growing in competence, developing communication skills, embracing collaboration – these all need to be built intentionally over long periods of time.

Life is defined by moments. We all have two significant moments in our lives – the day we are born, and the day we figure out why we were born. Take the time to discover God’s purpose for your life, and then take a firm hold of it. If you desire leadership, and you find yourself in a position of authority – good! Pursue it with intention and excellence, for the sake of everyone you have been called to serve.

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