Leadership Requirements: What are the Qualities of Effective Leaders?

Shweta Singh's quote

What are the requirements for leadership? What are the qualities of effective leaders? Which skills make successful leaders? How to be a good leader?

Anyone can be an effective leader. One should not be a politician or a CEO to become an effective leader, even a homemaker could be an effective leader. What makes leaders effective is not their positions but their way of thinking, acting, and communicating.

On December 13, 2017, news of a 4 years old girl who had received left-handed sharpeners from Hindustan Pencils was trending because her mother, Shweta Singh, shared the story on Facebook. The Facebook post received 25K likes and 11K shares. 

The news is mostly presented as a story of good customer service or a generous behavior of the company, but it’s more than that. It’s a story of effective leadership qualities. It has many aspects:

  1. You can know how to turn your desire into a reality by studying the problem-solving approach of Shweta Singh.
  2. You can know the formula of becoming a successful leader in a niche by studying the factors that made Hindustan Pencils market leader of Indian pencil industry.
  3. You can also know the secret of making your posts viral by studying the factors that made Shweta’s Facebook post viral.

The qualities that enable Shweta Singh to succeed in her endeavor, the qualities that make the Hindustan Pencils market leader, and the qualities that are responsible for making Shweta’s Facebook post viral are not different but the same. These are the qualities that make effective leaders.   

Effective leaders don’t complain but try to solve

Successful leaders don’t complain but identify a problem and try to solve it rationally with strategy and planning.

You don’t get the solution just by complaining. To get a solution, you have to first identify the problem and then have to try different ways to meet the solution. It’s said that Edison had tried more than 10,000 things before finalizing tungsten as the filament of the light-bulb.

Also, there’s a difference between a complaint and a problem. Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson in their book The One Minute Manager said, “If you can’t tell what you’d like to be happening, you don’t have a problem yet. You’re just complaining. A problem only exists if there is a difference between what is actually happening and what you desire to be happening.”

To identify a problem, they suggested to look a situation in behavioral terms, i.e., to keep its emotional part away and focus on its observable, measurable form. This is what Shweta Singh did and found that the difficulty lay in the design of the sharpener, that the sharpener was designed keeping in the mind the habits of right-handed people and it’d be difficult for left-handers to use it with the same ease.

In general, to sharpen a pencil, right-handers hold the sharpener in their left hand and insert the pencil into the hole in the lower-half of sharpener using their right hand and rotate the pencil in anti-clockwise direction because the blade lies in upper-half. This is the natural way to sharpen a pencil, but left-handers can’t sharpen the pencil in this way.

Pic of left-handed sharpener in the article on the qualities of effective leaders

The reason is left-handers hold the sharpener in their right hand and rotate the pencil using their left hand. And, when they hold the sharpener in right hand, the blade comes down to lower-half and the insertion-hole to upper-half. In this setup, if they rotate the pencil in an anti-clockwise direction, the pencil won’t sharpen. To sharpen the pencil in this setup, they have to rotate the pencil in a clockwise direction, and this isn’t the natural way to sharpen a pencil.

Effective leaders never give up when they fail

Successful leaders never give up when they fail. So far we have seen that Shweta has identified the problem. Now, comes the time to find the nature of the solution to the problem. What would be the solution?

The solution would be the sharpeners that when held in right hand, its blade will be in upper-half and insertion-hole in a lower half with an opening in the left.

Now, we know the problem and its solution, but it’s not enough. To solve the problem, we must also find a way to meet the solution and to do that we have to try several ways.

The first way Shweta tried was to look for sharpeners designed for left-handers in the local market but couldn’t find any. Then she tried another way to find the solution by looking online. She did find some left-handed sharpeners online but they’re too expensive. So, it was not her solution. She had to try something else.

Note that in her early two attempts, she failed. And, it’s enough for many to leave or stop trying at this stage but not Shweta because effective leaders never give up till they reach the destination or find the destination futile.

Effective leaders dare to think big, not shortcuts

Next what Shweta did many would not dare. She wrote to the companies who manufacture stationary products in India. And, one of the companies not only responded but sent her 5 left-handed sharpeners within a week.

There could have been another solution. She could have taught her daughter to rotate the pencil in the clockwise direction in right-handed sharpeners. It could have been an easy solution. Right? Then what’s the need to do all these?

In fact, her daughter was not the only left-handed kid in India. There are many, and they all are sharpening their pencils using right-handed sharpeners. The question is what led her to go through all these?   

The driving force for such a courage and determination could not have been just a sharpener. The reason must be something big. Don’t you think so?

Effective leaders are measured by their thoughts not deeds

Three people were laying bricks and a passerby asked them what they were doing. The first one replied, “Don’t you see I am laying bricks?” The second one said, “Don’t you see I am making a living?” The third one said, “I am building a beautiful monument.” Three people appeared to be doing the same thing gave totally different replies. Were they really doing the different things?

The answer is a Big YES. They might appear as doing the same thing but they weren’t doing the same thing at all. 

In a similar fashion, Shweta Singh might have appeared as arranging a left-handed sharpener for her daughter, but it’s just the periphery of the story. There’s more to it. The greatness of an effective leader is not measured by the act only but by the intent behind the act.

The story has a larger picture. It’s not just about the sharpener. It’s about justice. It’s about sustaining the society. The only difference between forest and society is that in the forest, might is right, but in society, meek have rights too.  

Shweta Singh put it as, “I personally feel that no one should be forced to adjust according to others just because they are in minority. Sharpener is a very small thing. I am sure my daughter would have gradually learned to use the conventional sharpener, but my main concern was the negligence that the left-handed kids face.”

Effective leaders are visionaries, not profit mongers

Shweta wrote to many companies but only Hindustan Pencils Private Limited came up with a solution. And, it’s not a coincidence that Hindustan Pencils is the market leader in Indian stationary industry with a market share of about 60 to 65 percent.

Hindustan Pencils was founded in the year 1958 with a vision of spreading the light of literacy. After independence in 1947, India was struggling with many things, including illiteracy. Most of the stationary products were imported, and the few who were indigenous were suffering from low quality.  

The vision statement of the company had been written, but the question was how the company was going to accomplish it? What would be its mission statement?

The mission statement of the company stated, “Delighting consumers with globally recognized stationary.” To spread the light of literacy, Hindustan Pencils chose the way of manufacturing state of the art stationary products at affordable price with the intention to delight customers.

With such a reputation and market share, the owners could have registered the company in the stock exchange and would have made a lot of money from it, but they didn’t because they started the company for a cause, not to make money. It’s the other thing that they are earning money out of it. Money is never a cause, it is always a result.  

Effective leaders have a clear WHY not fuzzy WHY

It’s a general perception that the first comers become the market leader but it’s not true. Camlin, now Kokuyo Camlin, started much earlier than Hindustan Pencils, in the year 1931 but could not become the market leader.  

According to Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, the market leaders start with WHY, a purpose, cause or belief that has nothing to do with WHAT they do. WHAT they do—the products they make—no longer serve as the reason to buy, they serve as the tangible proof of their cause.

The only thing differs effective leaders from the rest is that they know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They have a clarity of WHY while others have a fuzzy WHY.

Camlin has a fuzzy WHY. Kokuyo Camlin corporate philosophy states, “Committed to delivering superior quality to meet the diverse demands of customers across the globe.” Their priority is to just meet the diverse demands. This is the reason when the demands of bulk drugs went high, the company diversified its manufacturing and marketing activity into the field of pharmaceuticals in 1984. 

On the other hand, Hindustan Pencils has a clear WHY. It was not built to be a stationary industry. It was built to champion a cause. They just happened to use stationary to do it.

Effective leaders make the path when there’s none

In a similar way, the intention of Shweta Singh was not to get left-handed sharpeners but to champion a cause. Getting left-handed sharpeners from Hindustan Pencils served as tangible proof of her cause. 

Shweta not only managed to open a door for herself but as an effective leader, showed the way to others, too. Following her path, many approached Hindustan Pencils and got the specialized sharpeners from them free.

According to Sanjay Tiwari, Group Marketing Manager of Hindustan Pencils, the company has couriered around 400 left-handed sharpeners till January 18, 2018, after Shweta’s Facebook post went viral and will continue to do so till Hindustan Pencils starts to manufacture them on a commercial basis.   

She brought the awareness regarding the negligence faced by left-handed kids in India and made the society sensitive towards the special needs of left-handed kids. As a result, Hindustan Pencils is planning to launch basic stationary products for left-handers, like a sharpener, ruler, scissors, etc., soon.

Effective leaders work for doing not for its fruits

Great leaders do for the sake of doing only. They are least concerned whether they’ll succeed or not. Their motivation is not the end results but the cause of the act.

Law of Karma states that when you do good, you’ll have good. But, there’s a catch: If you do good only with the intention to gain good in return, then the act doesn’t qualify as good.

When you want to do something really good, the whole universe conspires to make it happen. Shweta Singh got left-handed sharpeners within a week because Hindustan Pencils already had the mold for it.

According to Sanjay, the company had been thinking to launch products for left-handers, and Shweta’s mail served the immediate reason to start commercial production.

When I asked Sanjay what would have been their response if they didn’t have the mold, he replied that the response would have been the same. It would have taken a longer time to deliver the sharpeners. That’s all.

And, when I asked Shweta what was her expectation when she was writing to different companies, she replied that she had no expectations; her only concern was to bring to their notice that the needs of the left-handers should not be ignored because they’re in minority.

She also quoted chapter 2 verse 47 of Bhagwadgita, which says, “Your right is to work only, but never with its fruits. Let the fruit of action be not your object, nor let your attachment be to inaction.”

Effective leaders live for a cause, not popularity

Neither Shweta Singh nor Hindustan Pencils thought that they would gain popularity out of their concern for left-handers, but they did. The Facebook post that Shweta wrote to show her gratitude towards Hindustan Pencil went viral. Do you know why? Because people trusted her.

People trusted her because it was a selfless act. Trust begins to emerge when we have a sense that another person or organization is driven by things other than their own self-gain. Trusts build when you’re authentic, and authenticity means that everything you say and everything you do, you actually believe.

Effective leaders live for a cause. Fame is just the by-product of their honest selfless effort.

Effective leaders win hearts, not manipulate minds

We trust those with whom we are able to perceive common values or beliefs. People trusted Shweta because they believe in her cause that the needs of left-handers could not be neglected because they’re in minority.

Leading only happens when people willingly follow you—not because they have to, not because they are paid to, but because they want to, and this is only possible when their WHY coincides with yours. People buy for their own reasons.

Art of leading is about following your heart. Communicate clearly and you’ll be understood.

Effective leaders are grateful, not selfish

Good leaders are grateful, not selfish. If Shweta only wanted sharpeners for her daughter, she wouldn’t share that Facebook post publicly. There was no need to write about it because she had already got what she wanted.

One thing is also noteworthy that it was her first public post. Shweta Singh is an introvert. Her facebook posts are mainly for her friends. If she wanted to boast about her achievements among friends, she could have done it without making her post public.

The only reason she made her Facebook post public because she genuinely wanted to say thanks to Hindustan Pencils for sharing her concern towards left-handers. She wanted people to aware of the problems faced by left-handers and be more sensitive towards them.

Effective leaders don’t compete but improve

Great leaders don’t compete but improve. Companies with a clear sense of WHY tend to ignore their competition, whereas those with a fuzzy sense of WHY are obsessed with what others are doing.

Knowing your WHY is not the only way to be successful, but it is the only way to maintain a lasting success and have a greater blend of innovation and flexibility.

When a WHY goes fuzzy, it becomes much more difficult to maintain the growth, loyalty, and inspiration that helped drive the original success. By difficult means that manipulation rather than inspiration becomes the strategy of choice to motivate behavior. This is effective in the short term but comes at a high cost in the long term.

The driving force of effective leaders is their cause, not competition. Good leaders define their success in terms of self-satisfaction, not competition. Shweta says, “Success is when you are satisfied with your own actions. For me, inner happiness and satisfaction is success.”


The ability to lead is termed as leadership, and the one who leads is called as a leader. Good leaders or effective leaders are those who develop a certain way of thinking, acting, and communicating that helps them in leading effectively. There are certain leadership qualities that make leaders effective and successful.

Qualities of effective leaders:

  1. They don’t complain but try to solve;
  2. They never give up when they fail;
  3. They dare to think big, not shortcuts;
  4. They are measured by their thoughts, not deeds;
  5. They are visionaries, not profit mongers;
  6. They have a clear WHY not fuzzy one;
  7. They make the path when there’s none;
  8. They work for doing not for its fruits;
  9. They live for a cause, not popularity;
  10.  They win hearts not manipulate minds;
  11.  They are grateful, not selfish; and
  12. They don’t compete but improve.