The search for leadership perfection is a futile one, but leaders can strive for excellence in ways that make them easy to follow and effective in their roles.
Of course to focus on just 3 ways is only a snap-shot into the many facets of worthy leadership characteristics. So offering these 3 is based on my experience of leaders I have found particularly inspiring and impactful.
1. Strive to excel at your craft
Leadership should never be about positional power on its own. Worthy leaders are those who have earned, and continue to earn the right to lead. This isn’t just about their character and inspiration, although these are essential. Great leaders are those who are always learning, hungry to empower those with expertise, and personally able to articulate deep knowledge in their chosen field.
I recall working for one particular leader whose grasp of the specialism I have chosen for my career, meant that I learned a lot from them – even though I felt I was also an expert. Collaborating, deferring, sharing ideas, perspectives and vision all make for an inspiring relationship with a leader.
2. Show an interest in everyone
Care enough to listen and be curious enough to ask questions are superb qualities of a great leader. Leadership isn’t always about having to be heard, always having the answer or always being prominent. Great leadership is about reaching out to those who have expertise, empowering those who can make a difference and building the confidence of those who you need to deliver.
I still recall the final day of a major (and exhausting) implementation of an organizational development initiative, the CEO walking to the front of the auditorium and giving me a congratulatory hug in front of everyone. Imagine the lift in my sense of worth! The responsibility of receiving is to give – so I have tried to lift up those around me and to bring exposure to contributions that make a difference. It’s often the administrators, interns or junior members of the team that need a deep interest taking in them – they are tomorrow’s leaders!
3. Shine a light
Bringing vision, optimism, honesty and clarity are ways in which leaders add potentially their greatest value. That doesn’t mean that the burden of this lies solely on them. It does however mean that their visibility requires these characteristics to be front and center in their consideration.
I recall one leader who I particularly admired being able to encapsulate a compelling strategic vision into one statement that inspired many actions. I think this is a gift. Not just one of word-crafting or coming up with a neat corporate slogan. To be able to bring insight, inspiration and a captivating purpose to the lives of those around you is a tremendous asset.
Excellence in leadership is often situational, often diverse and often evolving, but in my opinion it should always have the 3 characteristics above. These characteristics have shaped my values as a leader and this in turn shapes my focus in developing other leaders.