Another Leadership Post (Woo Hoo!)

Oct 30

We often identify great leaders as extroverted people who are bold and decisive. But you don’t need this set of characteristics to be a successful leader. Leadership positions are populated with people who have a rainbow of qualities, from different origins and backgrounds. It’s about how you interact with people. Everyone has different strengths and attributes.

Consider these tips or better still, think up some of your own and share in the comments.

1-Be Authentic.

Let me tell you the story of Roger and Dave.  You won’t know them, but these are leaders who exemplify authenticity.  Roger took over a division of a company that was in the midst of massive change and was on the verge of collapse.  Despite the circumstances, he carefully cultivated his relationship with our staff, patiently learning carefully about what each of us did.  Not only did he listen to us, he educated us on the nature of change, being totally honest about the situation and encouraging us that if we stayed on the train, it would take us to exciting places and great success.  It eventually did, the division grew from its secondary position in the company, to its leader in terms of revenue and profit.

Dave greeted me on the first day as HR Manager by saying, “They (the group of retailers I served) don’t give an expletive deleted about your MBA.”  “Here is your office and I’d better not ever see you in it.”  My orientation ended.  In our meetings, Dave was very much in charge.  He challenged us, often digging and asking us, “why does this make sense”.  It trained all of us to be ready and know the fundamentals of the decisions we made and things we proposed.  He was very strict with his “requests” and dinged me on a performance review because I arranged a job fair one week later than he had requested.  What he lacked in warmth, he made up with clarity.  Our region was very successful financially, a model for the rest of the company.

The point is that each of these leaders was very successful, but authentic in very different ways. I admire both and learned a lot.  What you saw was what you got, which is the most basic definition of authenticity.   Rather than imitating a famous leader, picking the best from a list of qualities or trying to be all things to all people, determine what it means for YOU to be authentic.

2-Be Present.

Know when to lead and when to let others step up.  Patrick Lencioni, speaks of the “humility vs publicity paradox”,  which tells us that leaders must never see themselves as better or superior to those they lead, but have an important role in publicly communicating and actively guiding the performance of their employees.    Learn to navigate this paradox.

Be available, not only when important decisions are made, but it’s also about treating each of those you lead as if they are the only person on earth, without interruptions and actively listening to what they say.

Being present can build trust.  Trust gives people confidence that you know what you’re doing and you’re committed to the company’s vision. It doesn’t take long for people to scope out a leader who lacks these qualities, especially if they’re never around.

3-Never stop learning.

Whether you’re an intern or a CEO, you should always be striving to do your job better. The best way to do this is by learning from your mistakes and weaknesses.

You should be willing to accept mistakes and be receptive to feedback. It’s a huge plus and distinction of a leader that even though there’s a disagreement, they can be empathetic of their employee’s point of view. You can’t survive with a thin skin. You should be prepared to receive any kind of news without it being sugarcoated.

You should also be open to mistakes made by your employees. Would you prefer them make occasional mistakes or not do anything at all?

Give yourself high standards.  Others will follow.  When you think you know it all, think again.  John Wooden said, “Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

4-People 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

Herb Kelleher, the founder and former CEO of Southwest airlines once said, “People first, customers second.”

Kelleher’s unique vision for Southwest caused it to become the only U.S. airline to ever make a consistent profit. His success is a result of making his employees a high priority. Kelleher stood up for his employees during dark economic times such as post 9/11, vowing for work hour reductions over job cuts.

If you don’t treat employees right, they won’t be happy. And when your employees aren’t happy, they’re less likely to deliver quality service to your customers.  Give your employees the level of respect you want them to give your clients. In many businesses, the lowest-level employees have the most interaction with customers yet the respect they receive does not match the importance of the role.

Southwest is a prime example of a people-focused company. Thanks to Kelleher, the company has been equipped to battle every competitor, which has led to growth beyond his departure.

This is your strongest weapon when it comes to the external factors of uncertainly and volatility in business. Technology is a driving force that’s constantly changing business operations in any industry. When you combine people’s strengths, you’re better positioned to weather changes in technology and other trends than if you operate thinking you’re the answer to every question.
Gallup’s Strengthsfinder 2.0 , Marcus Buckingham’s Standout  and the VIA Survey of Character Strengths Assessments are leading instruments to determine strengths.  A leader should know her own strengths and the assessments are a convenient way to learn others strengths.

5-Work Hard.

I may seem that (insert famous leaders names here) were born with special gifts. As they would probably tell you, leadership is ultimately the result of hard work and experience.  Diligence, dedication and consistency in cultivating these traits will help anyone who leads be the best they can be.

Angela Duckworth has studied what makes anyone more successful, “passion and perseverance for very long term goals”.    True Grit is not optional.

Leadership should be treated as a marathon, not a sprint.

performance management empowering good work choices


  1. Never stop learning is probably one of the biggest leadership qualities many folks overlook. In the quest to be a Leader, the Best, and Know so much about so much- it is easy to forget things change and/or you simply can’t know it all- in order to grow you must be willing to learn and evolve. (and during the evolution there WILL be failure- GRIT is so NOT OPTIONAL! ) Love that line!!!

  2. David Brower /

    Very real world take on the world of business and leadership, thanks for laying it out like this, Rick.

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