As I write this, I’ve spent nearly 9 years in one of the most highly acclaimed leadership producing organization in the world – The United States Marine Corps. During that time I have been given numerous opportunities to observe leaders of varying personalities and deliveries. I have also realized that leadership is EVERYWHERE, not only in the military, business, or parenting. Leadership just happens, and it is as sure as gravity. The quality of leadership, however, is quite susceptible to fluctuation. There are often common traits amongst good and great leaders, and in my experience there are two that are the most important: Good and great leaders are genuine and sincere.
While there is much to be said about learning from those who are successful and those who came before you; there is a fine line between emulating their founding qualities, and their specific actions. Some great leaders are great speakers and charismatic, others are quiet and reserved. Some prefer very structured algorithms and methods in which all things have a specific procedure, while others have a high tolerance of ambiguity and seem to take things as they come. A person can be a great leader, or even a “level 5 leader” as John Maxwell or Jim Collins would describe them with ANY of the previously described personalities. How? They are genuine and sincere. Their actions reflect alignment between their personalities and their delivery as a leader. One might argue that the leader must also produce results to be considered a successful leader, which is true… but a discussion for another time.
Lead others by being GREAT at being YOU! Yes, YOU! Don’t be that great leader you read about. He might be great because his natural strengths to speak and motivate people afforded him amazing leadership opportunities within the situations he was presented. If you are not a naturally strong leader, trying to mimic him will be clear to anyone you step in front of. Your followers will know you are not being you. Be genuine, and show your genuine intentions and concerns for the goals you intend for you and your followers to obtain. Don’t forget to communicate and deliver your genuine message in your OWN way. In order for anyone who chooses to follow you, they have to see your delivery and the way you present yourself are aligned with you as a genuine person. And yes, I did say “choose” to follow you, because just being in a position of leadership doesn’t mean your “followers” will follow you.
Communicate your genuine concerns by being SINCERE! It doesn’t take a degree in communications to know if a person isn’t committed to what they are saying. If a message is worth communicating, then it is worth paying due attention to who you are communicating to. Show them it matters to you that they understand what you are trying to say. You don’t even have to be a great speaker or communicator. The receiving party will be able to tell if you are being sincere. As Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book, “Blink”, all humans are able to read the international language of body language. Some better than others, but if you are not sincere, your body language will tattle-tell on you… and your intended recipient will tune you out. Repeated offenses of seeming insincere will tarnish your reputation and take away from any chances you have of being perceived as genuine.
Being genuine and sincere are two of the mandatory qualities of a leader that also translate into the qualities of just being a good person. I have been guilty of being insincere, and it is something I actively work on. For example, I am working on being a better active listener. How sincere and genuinely concerned would you believe me to be if I told you how much I care and that you can talk to me, but when you begin to talk to me you can tell I am thinking about other things, or you don’t have my full attention? You are probably going to think I am incredibly inconsiderate, regardless of my personality. Or even worse, if the person thinks highly of you, you may have just made them feel like their problem doesn’t matter – that they don’t matter. EVERYONE you lead matters! As a leader, your followers should never feel like they don’t matter. Thankfully I have identified that area as something for me to improve on… and believe me, there is always something to improve.
As a leader, if nothing else, be genuine and sincere. Don’t get me wrong, that is not all you have to do to be a successful leader by any means. There are many books by incredibly smart and well-practiced professionals that can tell you more about being a leader. As your proficiencies grow within your area of expertise, so will your credibility as a leader. Don’t stop there! Continue to improve, not just yourself but those that follow you (that is an entirely additional blog…).
For those interested, I have provided a short list of books on leadership that I highly recommend (and yes I have read them). You just may find some concepts and ideas in my blog to sound strangely familiar. I have linked their Amazon.com listings if you click on the book title:
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Good to Great by Jim Collins (more about business but plenty of insights on leadership qualities)
Great by Choice by Jim Collins
Level 5 Leadership by John C. Maxwell
It’s Your Ship by Michael Abrashoff
…If you have read this far, humor me: Reread all but the last paragraph, and replace the word “Leader” with “Husband/Father” and the word “Follower” with “Wife/Children/Family”. Think about it… it’s funny how that works.