People often ask me what leadership qualities I most admire in a person. It is really very simple. The three most admirable qualities in my mind are:
Let’s break this down a little bit.
The most important of these three leadership qualities is authenticity. Some people assume that when they are in a professional setting such as the office or a work event they must act and behave in a certain way. A way that does not feel real to them.They feel fake. In a sense many leaders feel as though they are actors on a stage. I have heard leaders say they need to be “on” while in work situations. They don’t think they can be themselves.
Most people agree that authentic leaders are genuine. They don’t try to hide their mistakes but own them. A leader that I admire very much once gave me some very good advice. She said, when you make a mistake, admit it, apologize and move on. Don’t hide it and don’t dwell on it. Use it as an opportunity to grow and learn what you can so it doesn’t happen again.
Authentic leaders put the mission and the vision of the organization they are leading ahead of their own. They are not seeking power and prestige for themselves. The look for ways to highlight the good work that is being done by the employees. They seek to improve the bottom line of the company not the bottom line of their personal portfolio.
Authentic leaders lead with dignity. This means they communicate with clarity and directness, along with empathy. It is empathy that helps them connect with their employees and gain their trust. They have the dignity to show their own vulnerability by sharing their emotions. It is ok to have feelings and to share both the joy and the frustrations. It is equally important to let people know the real you so they can see what is important to you and in the long run support you.
Leading with Integrity
The next of the leadership qualities that are important to find is integrity. Leading with integrity means that you do what you say you will. People trust that when you say something you mean it. They know that you will follow through. Going a step further, integrity in leadership means not just honoring your word but honoring yourself. It’s great to do what you say you will, but sometimes integrity means not doing what you said because it turns out not to be the best thing for the company when all the facts have come to light. Integrity can mean changing course when it is best for everyone, even if it means not doing what you said you would in the beginning.
Leading with Courage
Lastly, let’s talk about courage in leadership. It takes courage to be a leader. I was told early in my career that leadership was lonely. That I would lose my work friends when I was promoted. I wouldn’t necessarily say I lost them, but our relationship certainly changed. I had to find a new tribe to discuss work problems and seek advice from. The higher up in leadership I got, the more courage I needed. A common saying amongst my circle was- it’s the leader, it’s always the leader. That meant good or bad, the responsibility feel on the shoulders of the leader. The final decisions rested with the leader. Being responsible means having the courage to make bold, audacious decisions knowing they could be big wins or big losses. It means trusting your instincts and doing the right thing even when it is not possible to please everyone.
To sum it up, I strive to be the kind of leader I want to follow myself. Employees don’t leave companies or organizations, they leave poor leaders. A leader without followers is not really a leader at all.