I think it is safe to say that leadership is a journey, and like most expeditions, there are a few essential things that have to come along with us if we are going to make it a worthwhile experience.
Here are four that come to mind for me:
1. A sense of Humour: Leadership is a very serious subject and good leadership is an essential part of any successful enterprise. But to me, the load is so much lighter when we take ourselves less seriously than the work. So, lighten up. Know that you will make mistakes (some people like to call these learning opportunities…uh huh). If you don’t already know how, learn to laugh at yourself before everyone else beats you to it. Believe me, it’s very therapeutic and, if I were to be completely honest, it’s a great defense mechanism too!
2. Curiosity Remember when you were a kid and asked questions like bullets coming out of a gun? You wanted to know why the sky was blue; how come fish could breathe in the ocean; and why the lady next door always wore that silly hat with the big red feather. We learned over time to be more discerning in our questioning practices so as not to be annoying or embarrass anyone. And we learned to mind our own business because it was polite. Sadly, for many of us, along with all of that went a great deal of this natural drive to learn and know about things and people. But curiosity is an invaluable exploration tool for leaders in business, or any other area of life. Why are things the way they are? What can be changed to make them better? What would life be like if we did Y instead of X? Curiosity opens up the imagination and allows for progress to be made in an interesting and fruitful way.
3. Belief in yourself If you are a new leader, the prospect of being responsible for the outcomes and development of others can be pretty daunting. But, know this. You were chosen to lead for a reason. Believe that you are in the place that you are supposed to be. Trust your instincts. And then do what you have to do to prove yourself right. That’s sometimes called “fake it ’til you make it”
4. Humility, Will, Integrity and Courage I’ve bunched these together because to me, they are the cornerstones of good, even great, leadership. You can’t leave home without them folks. And to have one or two but not the others makes for an inconsistent and possibly unstable environment
Humility is about acknowledging, through actions, that being of service to something, someone, or a group of someones in the accomplishment of things greater than ourselves is more important than serving our individual wants and needs. This is often hard to do but those who accomplish it and couple it with a strong Will to get the job done (whatever it might be) are the kinds of leaders that make great things happen. Jim Collins, who wrote Good to Great- Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t calls this kind of leadership Level 5 and while his book is aimed at executive leaders, there are lessons there for all of us.
Courage and integrity work hand in glove as well. In my observation, one of the biggest issues in workplaces today is trust, or the lack thereof. Leaders with courage and integrity will recognize not only the power their positions provide but also the burden of responsibility that goes along with it. These leaders do what they say they are going to do. They operate from a set of principles that are transparent to everyone. And when change raises its sometimes ugly head, they are not afraid to go first; test the water and encourage and inspire others to follow. Leading from a place of courage and integrity engenders trust and solid followership regardless of whether you lead a multi-national corporation or a small group within an organization.
There are of course many other values on which leaders draw to be effective and to achieve the results they need to create success. Those I have described represent the basics. So, if you want to delve further into the realm of personal values, here are a couple of suggestions:
Something to Read: Here’s a link to an excerpt from a book entitled: The Seven Heavenly Virtues of Leadership by Margaret Thorsborne. The article addresses the value of integrity to our lives in general and leadership in particular.
Something to try: How about spending a little time focusing on your own values? There is no limit to the number. The only rule is that they have to be true for you, not what you think others expect of you.
So here’s a couple of questions to help get you started:
1. What has to be present in my life for me to feel strong and content?
2. What makes me really angry? (I mean really angry)
Answer the questions as honestly as possible and then write down the values that come to mind. For instance if you feel really alive and vital when you are tackling a complex problem then perhaps challenge and/or learning are important values for you.
Whatever you do, have fun with it and Let me know how it worked for you!