Four decades of experiencing, observing and reading about leadership has revealed these six skills/behaviors displayed by world class leaders:
1. Embrace Reality: Leaders acknowledge, face and communicate reality.
2. Engender Followership: Understand that people follow people and not titles since titles are bestowed while leadership is earned.
3. Strive for Excellence: The best leaders have a passion for excellence.
4. Build People: They are builders of people as much as they are of business.
5. Growth mindset: World class leaders are committed to constantly upgrading their and their companies’ skills, craft and knowledge.
6. Inspirational Storytellers: They go beyond math to meaning. They integrate spreadsheet and story.
The best leaders acknowledge and encourage the surfacing of facts regardless of how challenging.
A key to leadership is to solve challenges and address problems.
This requires confronting issues versus looking away or hoping some form of magical thinking will make them go away.
One cannot hope to get people to follow if they suspect one is not addressing real issues and challenges however difficult they may be.
Leaders embrace data and know math matters.
They accept that facts are stubborn things.
And while it may be forestalled for a while truth has a habit of breaking in.
Facing hard facts and addressing reality does not mean defeat or pessimism. But it is the first step in making things better.
To have a solution one must understand the problem.
This often requires creating an environment where people feel free to call out the problem and note that the brown moist thing that everybody is staring at around the conference table or on the Zoom screen is not a brownie but a turd.
Great leaders acknowledge mistakes. They know they do not have all the answers. This means they are open to criticism and correction, and they surround themselves with skill sets that offset and balance their areas of weakness.
Leaders engender followership.
Without the hearts and minds of those they manage one is not a leader but a ruler.
Rulers leverage fear, project power and exploit insecurity.
Employees genuflect, fall in line, salute and pander to the feared boss, while they silently seethe, create an array of plans to resist by slow walking decisions, plot insurrection or practice defection.
People follow people and not titles.
By being approachable, reasonable and empathetic a leader engenders followership.
And most importantly they do so through integrity.
They earn this trust by not only be fact driven but being clear and intentional about their goals and transparent about how they expect to get there.
Here is where we are going.
Here is why we are going there.
And here is how we are going to get there.
If you have better ideas or concerns say so.
The best leaders build people and not just businesses.
Every good leader has many other leaders that work for them, have worked for them or want to work for them.
Leadership is not a zero sum gain of one person winning and another losing but a game of abundance where everybody learns, grows and challenge each other by continuously reaching higher and delegating more and more to others so they can take on new challenges and opportunities.
An art that builders of people have mastered is that of feedback. Specifically, how to provide input on how one can overcome challenges, correct mistakes and grow as people. The best do so in ways that combine truth and sensitivity that get people to believe in both their need to change combined with the belief that they can!
When looking for a leader ask them how many leaders they have built.
Leaders exemplify excellence.
They set high standards for quality of product and service delivered, financial results and what they expect of people around them
Excellence is what attracts customers, talent and financial results.
And helps create world class cultures.
They sweat the details and expect others to do so and measure themselves against aspirational benchmarks.
The best leaders never stop growing.
They are continuously learning and honing and upgrading their craft.
They do and do not just manage.
They seek not to blame but to understand, to learn versus believing they know it all.
They realize that only if they grow and the people around them grow in skills, reputation and knowledge will the company and its customers and clients grow.
They invest in learning, taking bets on the future, challenging existing business models, looking outside their categories for inspiration and potential disruption.
In today’s highly networked environment where much is expected by companies from multiple stakeholders the ability to communicate with clarity, nuance, understanding and authenticity has become even more critical.
The math, data and the spreadsheet are key tools every leader leverages.
But they know that people choose with their hearts but then use numbers to justify what they have done.
Leaders find ways to resonate and inspire through their writing, their videos, their in-person group and individual communications by infusing the facts of math and spreadsheet with the feelings of meaning and story.
Leadership is accessible to everybody.
Most of the traits of a leader can be honed without being a “boss”.
One does not need to have people reporting to them or reaching a certain level of seniority or seasoning to a) work at honing one’s craft in the light of excellence, b) helping other people, c) spending time learning everyday d) building one’s writing and presentation skills and e) always being clear about one’s intentions and goals and transparent about the plan to get there.
Art by Ai Weiwei
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Thank you for another well-articulated & very helpful article. I especially like your remark "By being approachable, reasonable and empathetic, a leader engenders followership. And most importantly they do so through integrity."