If I have one core message it is this: leadership is about who you are, not what you do.
Who you are influences what you do, how you do it, and why.
There are many more than 5 qualities effective leaders demonstrate but in the interest of your time I’ll keep to the 5 qualities I think are the most important:
Self-Awareness – great leadership starts with awareness of self. In fact, it would be nearly impossible to exhibit the other four qualities without it. Specifically, self-awareness refers to our ability to recognize, identify and manage our emotions. If you are not aware of what you’re feeling and why, you are far more likely to act in less-than-constructive ways, both at work and at home.
Integrity – be who you say you are, do what you say you will do. I once worked for a man who almost never did what he said he would do. He would brainstorm all these great ideas, make many promises to his team and clients, and almost never deliver for one reason or another…and he always had a reason. As a result, he created a culture of mistrust and disengagement. If your team doesn’t trust you, they will find 1,000 reasons not to move in the direction you desire. If your team trusts you, they will follow you almost anywhere. Practice integrity with your words and follow-through on promises.
Courage – Admiral Jim Stockdale was a Vietnam POW and survived by being willing to confront the brutal facts of his reality and retain unwavering faith he would prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. Jim Collins coined this the Stockdale Paradox and named it as one of the characteristics of a Level 5 Leader in his bestseller, Good to Great. In other words, optimism is not always helpful, especially in the face of difficulty, conflict, or crisis. Whether you are analyzing less than optimal results from a project or facing a difficult employee decision, be honest with yourself – face the brutal facts of the situation but know you (and your team) will ultimately prevail in the end.
Service to Others – Leadership is service to others – others being the operative word. I cannot count the number of leaders I have worked with or for, whose every action was in service to themselves. Most people are not aware they are doing this – that’s why self-awareness is so important. If you don’t know you’re doing something and why, you are at the mercy of your ego. Show up every day and ask “how may I best serve my team and my organization today?”
Be a Lifelong Learner – it’s ok not to know everything. In fact, no one knows everything. As a leader, I used to think I was expected to know everything. I imagine most leaders feel this pressure – at least the ones I know do. The field of leadership is always evolving, we are always learning more about how to best operate in the ever-changing global economy and if you are not committed to lifelong learning, you will fall behind. Even after 15 years of leadership, I learn something new about it almost every day, but it’s because I am committed to lifelong learning. And learning is fun!!