Three Traits of Real Leadership

All of us, throughout our lives and careers have worked for and with effective, strong leaders… well as those leaders who leave much to be desired. And no, to be clear, just because folks hold a titled position or ‘outrank us’ does NOT make them a ‘leader’. To quote Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric: “Leadership begins with a constituency of one.”. And this is so true….we are the CEO’s of our lives. We CHOOSE how we respond to situations. We CHOOSE how we meet challenges, direct our futures, and yes….lead our troops. What are three non-negotiable traits of strong, effective leaders? Here is my take….and no, this list is not all-inclusive of what makes authentic, REAL, leaders….yet, these are three legs I believe to be indispensable.

REAL leaders have WISDOM and VISION.

Some folks may wonder why I coupled these two attributes together. Here is why: having a vision for our teams, our businesses and our lives is not enough. Sure, it is imperative we have the foresight and ability to plant a flag and march solidly toward it. Frankly, that goes without saying. However, to charge ahead without the first assessing the present situation could lead us in the wrong direction. We need the wisdom to evaluate and discern reality…..and THEN based on where we ARE determine WHERE we are going and HOW we are going to get there. One without the other is a fool’s folly. There is a book that a dear friend recommended to me many years ago entitled: Visioneering written by Andy Stanley. Though this book may be too spiritually grounded for some of my readers, I found it to be compelling and rich in content. In addition, Chapter Twelve is all about the concept on which I have based my company and the philosophy upon which I base my life: ALIGNMENT. Pick it up – you will learn something, of this I am certain.

REAL leaders take the first step.

A few weeks ago, I was leading a leadership retreat and the CEO of this very successful company lamented to me that “many on her staff simply will not take initiative’. They wait to be told what to do. When they face a hard decision, they ask others what to do rather than to ‘lean in’ and make the hard call themselves. Simply stated: this is NOT leadership.  Real leaders take the first step. They lead by example and let their actions speak for themselves. When naysayers pick at them, they stand tall and answer to their ‘heart of hearts’, and follow their North Star. When bullies and ‘mean girls’ jab at them, they pull their shoulders back, lift their chins, and carry on.  When real leaders show they have gumption and chutzpah through their actions (not just their words), it is contagious. Their teams find strength they did not know they had within themselves. They find inner courage which leads them to achieve things that perhaps they did not believe they could. THAT is leadership.

REAL leaders leave a LEGACY.

When we think about the leaders in our lives, and in history, the measure of their contribution is what lives on long after they have gone. Many of us have worked for leaders whose leadership created ripple effects which lasted YEARS, and in some cases, lifetimes after their tenure. My favorite personal examples are: Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. The impact they had on an industry, a country, a world, and countless individuals is immeasurable. When we think of these names: Churchill, Roosevelt, Jobs, Lincoln, Ghandi…….what comes to mind? Their unique contributions AND their impact lives on today. THAT is REAL leadership…..which has left a legacy.

So, a few questions to take the first step in assessing our own leadership journeys:

When have we taken a stand for something when it goes against the status quo? Are we willing to stand behind our convictions regardless of the consequences? What is my vision for my life? For my business? What am a tolerating which is inhibiting my efforts to create the life I want? What am I willing to give up – or what am I willing to do – to reach that destination? How badly do I want it? What legacy am I writing for myself?

“Leadership begins with a constituency of one”……and I am that one.