My youngest recently challenged me with this question. It was something he was asked in an interview to join a Leadership Academy. It should have been fairly straightforward to answer. After all, I work to support leaders everyday. Yet how do I explain to a 16 year-old with limited life and work experiences what good leadership looks like? It would be a lot easier to talk about what it is not, but to define it in a manner that he will grasp, well now that is tough.
Google leadership and you will find over 465,000 results. Obviously, it is a much discussed and written about subject. In my opinion, leadership in its purest form is simply “getting things done through others”. But as an explanation as to what makes a good leader, that just does not do it justice.
In my opinion, leadership in its purest form is simply “getting things done through others”.
Leadership starts with understanding people! First and foremost, is a need to possess a deep understanding of yourself. It is critical to know what fuels you, your habits, your flaws and of course, your strengths. A good leader also constantly seeks input, so that their blind spots are exposed. Effective leaders know how to motivate people and realize that there is no one simple formula for doing so. In order to inspire, you must make people feel heard, cared for, valued and respected. What makes people feel that way can vary from person to person. A good leader needs to be perceptive and always on the lookout for clues as to what makes people tick.
hat brings me to my next point. Good leadership requires good listening. Actively listening to what is being said not only provides a tremendous path to gain knowledge and information, it also serves to validate the importance you place on the speaker. The best leaders truly listen. Aligned closely to that is presence. A famous Zen Master Thich Nhat Han once said, “the precious gift we can offer others is our presence”. To meet a person fully, in the moment is extraordinarily powerful and meaningful. In today’s world, where the call to multi-task and the potential for distraction is so great, good leaders can set that aside and be fully present.
Zen Master Thich Nat Han once said, “the most precious gift we can offer others is our presence”
A leader must have a true sense of purpose. They must know intimately why they are there and what it is that must be done. Further, they must be able to convey that purpose to the others in the organization. They must help them to understand how their role links to the purpose and impacts the desired outcomes.
Good leadership also takes courage, which is different than fearlessness. A courageous leader is one who, when facing fear, anxiety or just general trepidation, still takes decisive action. Good leaders do and should have fears and worries, but they never allow those to become paralyzing.
I am not a big fan of the word authentic, as it has become over used. Yet, it does do a nice job of conveying my next point. A leader needs to be authentic, comfortable in his or her own skin. So much is written about what is the “best” leadership style. It is my belief, the best style is your style, not some other that you are trying to emulate or replicate. There are bombastic leaders, who enjoy tremendous success and just as many mild-mannered leaders achieve similar heights. Again, the best style is your style. One that represents your true self.
In the interest of brevity, I will lump these final attributes together; humor, humility and empathy. Good leaders are likeable and approachable. They can laugh with others and at themselves. They take the time to understand and care. This may actually be a fairly recent change, which stems from a more transient workforce and Millennials who have a different expectation from those they work with and for. I have always been an advocate of this form of leadership, but I think it has moved from a nice to have to a must have. People just don’t want to work for jerks regardless of brilliance or vision.
There are so many more attributes or traits that I could share, but the above represents what I feel is most salient to good leadership. Now I turn this question outward, what does good leadership look like? Please share your answers in the comment section below.
Many of the above traits are part of Integrative Leadership. This is a leadership approach that blends purpose, clarity and focus with mindfulness, presence and authenticity. To learn more, please reach out, and I will be happy to schedule a time for a conversation.