Recently, I watched as a highly influential public figure, business owner and community leader treated someone who has an impairment with a level of respect, kindness and consideration rarely seen these days. And I was once again struck by the fact that those who succeed – in business, in school, at work and in their communities – are not always those with thousands of “friends” or followers, a blue checkmark next to their Twitter name or the title of “Influencer” on LinkedIn. They succeed where it counts — in the way they treat others, no matter who they might be.
These are leaders who:
1. Learn from the past. Smart leaders take pains to learn why things are being done the way they are. They believe in the old adage, “Those who cannot remember the past, are doomed to repeat it.” (George Santayana, writer and philosopher) We are on this earth for just a blip of time and we’re not the first to face certain challenges or aspire to those BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals). Some say there are no new ideas. Centuries of lessons learned came before us, and we don’t have the corner on innovation. We should be wise enough and humble enough not to put people through costly, stressful, time-intensive exercises in futility.
2. Acknowledge others. Leaders say “thank-you,” look people straight in the eye, offer congratulations and generously share the success of others. They look for opportunities to give colleagues and fellow team members the spotlight. Most of all, they respond. Good leaders know the worst thing you can do to a person is ignore them. It is the fastest way to devalue someone’s worth and demoralize the team.
3. Ask for feedback. They don’t “school” or scold if they don’t agree with the opinions of others. If they have more knowledge or experience in a matter, they don’t discount the input they just received. They take notes. They say, “I’ll get back to you.” They appreciate it when people take the time and make the effort to offer suggestions. And they are open to the idea there may be more than one way to skin that proverbial cat.
4. Extend invitations. Wise leaders know that some are just waiting to be asked to participate. They seek out people who are often overlooked — the wallflowers, the quiet ones, people who aren’t normally considered one of the “cool kids.” These are the folks who will work their hearts out for a worthy cause, if given the chance to help.
5. Are loyal. They remember old friends and those who helped them get where they are now. Rather than allow themselves to be blinded by the flash of flattery, fast talk and glitter of groupies, they put their faith and trust in those who supported them, way back when.
6. Aren’t afraid to apologize. Leaders aren’t perfect. The pressure to deliver can be intense and there’s never enough time to consistently do it right. But when they screw up, they fess up. No waffling and no blaming others.
7. Know the difference between confidence and arrogance. A friend of mine has said, “Politicians aren’t kings.” Well, community and workplace leaders aren’t either. True leaders know they are “in service” to customers, co-workers and constituents. They may exude confidence, but humility keeps them grounded, approachable, credible and trustworthy. Arrogant people in power are seen as obnoxious.
8. Are committed to solving problems. Strong leaders do not play politics with people’s lives. Their job is to remove obstacles and make things better, not to deflect, exacerbate and inflame. True leaders remember whom they were “hired” to serve, the mission that guides them and foundational principles that gave them the opportunity in the first place.
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with and for a number of talented leaders throughout my career. Leadership is a tough position to be in. You can’t make everyone happy and too often, leaders end up on the firing line when they speak up to raise important issues. While we may not always agree with their positions, we have to give them credit for being willing to take the heat. If you’ve never risked it all — job, reputation, friendships, business opportunities and even personal safety — you can’t imagine how difficult it is to hold the line. That’s what leadership courage is all about and we can all learn from it.