As a dad to four accomplished daughters, I did a fair share of reflecting this past Women’s History Month about what it takes to make a great leader. It turns out my daughters have been the best teachers in understanding the traits necessary for high-performing leaders.
This came as a bit of a surprise to me since I’ve spent a significant part of the past 30 years working in some aspect of recruiting, coaching, mentoring and leadership development. Whether thriving alongside truly inspirational leaders or enduring the challenges of ineffective ones, my fascination with the distinguishing characteristics of an exceptional leader continues to capture my curiosity and stretch my thinking.
In the end, I believe leadership isn’t science and it’s most likely not even an art. It’s really about a solid commitment to doing what is right for the people that you are responsible for.
Blessed with four daughters, I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to take an active role in their growth and development and help lead them to adulthood. It’s been challenging, humbling, tiring, insightful, and ultimately the most rewarding undertaking of my life. The wins, as well as the mistakes made along the way, bear out several distinctive attributes that align beautifully with what it takes to be as well as what to do, to be a great leader.
What it takes
Everyone develops at different times and in different ways. Give people the time and space to develop and they will surprise you. Well-placed patience gets rewarded.
Too much personal ego stunts the growth of the people being led. People don’t want to support an overblown ego, and if they do, they likely have a negative ulterior motive.
Each person that you lead comes with different abilities, drivers, goals, and interests. A leaders’ job is to find out who they really are, what potential is ripe for unleashing and build a working relationship from there.
Truly great and transcending leaders are known for caring about the people they lead more than they do themselves. When people see this in their leaders, they tend to walk through walls for them.
We live in the most transparent time in history – everyone is watching what you do. The way you treat just one person is being viewed by everyone and you will be judged on this.
What to do
Leaders make mistakes (a lot of them). The leaders that own up to them quickly gain the respect, trust and admiration of their team and build a powerful cohesion.
Have the tough talks
Tough conversations are necessary for both results and the growth of your people. Leaders that avoid these conversations lose opportunities to build trust and respect.
Leaders don’t need to respond to all situations and comments immediately, so reflect first. A bit of reflection can be the difference between throwing gasoline on a fire or providing valuable insight.
Leaders don’t know everything and the people that you lead realize it. There is true power in listening to your people and helping them own the ideas and solutions.
Keep an eye on your legacy
Leading and developing people is both the most important and rewarding thing that we do in our personal and business lives. In fact, the only real and lasting way to cement your legacy is through the people that you develop.
Do you have a daughter or two in your own life? They have much to teach us about leadership. With them, or in your professional capacity, learn from your mistakes and remain committed to improvement. Sometimes this means being willing to strengthen an area of your own that needs attention. Advice and guidance from a trusted peer or an executive coach can help transform a good leader into a great one.