Do you want to be a good leader, or a great leader?
Great leadership requires a commitment to constant improvement – a commitment to constant learning.
I’ve had the privilege of working with thousands of inspiring leaders throughout my career as an executive coach. Some are striving towards the C-Suite; some have arrived and want to elevate their team’s performance, or their own.
The diversity of personalities, experiences, and perspectives has enriched my understanding of what it takes to be a great leader.
As I’ve walked alongside them on their journey, they’ve shared leadership lessons that I can apply to my personal and professional life, and I want to share them with you.
5 Leadership Lessons
I’ve learned from every workshop, every coaching session, every conversation I’ve had with my clients. Here are the five leadership lessons I’ve taken away…
1. Love people
Truly impactful leaders have a passion for people.
They create people-based cultures...they understand the power of relationships. Business isn’t merely transactional for great leaders. It’s interpersonal.
A good leader will assess their team based on technical skillsets. A great leader will look beyond credentials and see into the character of their team members...and then strive to bring out the very best in them.
They thrive on seeing their colleagues and direct reports thrive.
2. Show up
Great leaders make commitments...and then follow through.
When you show up, even when the going gets tough, your team learns to trust you. We’ve all had a boss or supervisor who’s adept at showing up to take credit for success. Great leaders are willing to ride out the setbacks and take ownership of them, too.
A team that trusts their leader is more likely to dig deep when it’s crunch-time because they trust your commitment to their collective success.
This will require learning how to avoid over-committing your individual resources.
A leader who promises everyone a piece of their time is popular at a strategy session, but that popularity will be replaced by frustration and disappointment when your team realizes you can’t be in three places at once.
3. Know what rocks your world
All the great leaders I’ve met have a fire in their belly.
They have a vision, a purpose, and a drive to see their vision succeed.
That enthusiasm and drive are infectious qualities. And when great leaders share their vision and passion, they ignite a fire in their team.
Your colleagues don’t have to share your exact motivation, but when they see your energy, they’ll feed off it and find their high gear.
Experts call this “values-based leadership” – your leadership is rooted in who you are and what matters most to you. When you know yourself and what you stand for, decisions come quickly, and people trust your motives.
4. Listen...then listen some more
People aren’t motivated by what you want them to do...they’re motivated by what they want to achieve.
Great leaders find out what motivates others. And the only way to truly understand what others want is to listen – and listening is a skill that can be developed, just like learning to speak in front of an audience.
Try these three habits to hone your listening skills:
Ask questions. In our rush to get information and meet deadlines, we can gloss over details that might be extremely important. So ask your colleague to elaborate or clarify a thought. Don’t jump over a topic because you assume you’ve got the gist.
Read body language. Their lips are moving, words are coming out, but what is the rest of their body saying? Pay attention to the non-verbal cues – they might point to a more significant, more critical issue than the one you’re addressing.
Go deep. Even in the most healthy work environment, people can hold back during planning meetings. Take time to read between the lines and ask probing questions that create an atmosphere of trust and curiosity. Your colleague might be waiting for you to pick up on a hint they’ve dropped...grasp it and follow up.
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5. See beyond the barriers`
Expansiveness is a vital ingredient to executive leadership success.
You have to combine a drive towards a single goal with an ability to see a variety of perspectives. Be willing to take in new information and accept that some situations will involve a certain amount of ambiguity.
Don’t view the ambiguity as a lack of planning...see it as an opportunity to develop novel solutions to novel problems.
Encourage your team to shift their thinking from “It’s never been done...” to “Let’s give it a try...” and watch their creativity explode. And welcome input from unlikely sources.
Of course, there will be times when data-driven realities limit your decisions. But you don’t have to be a slave to data. The world is full of innovations that started with, “What if…?”
Great leaders are great students
If there’s anything you should take away from these five lessons, it’s the underlying principle: learning.
Great leaders are constantly seeking new perspectives, methods, and opportunities to improve themselves and their team. This requires a passion for people and knowing your passion, following through on commitments, listening intently...and pushing boundaries.
Leaders who work with Lisa as their executive leadership coach have seen great results...is it time for you to begin your great leadership journey? Contact Lisa and get started.
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This article has been updated in 2021.