Sometimes I tell my clients the stories of two great people that I’ve worked for and how I would work my b_ _ _ off for them. Clients ask “How do I create that kind of environment? How do I get people to work hard for me?” Well, both of these people were “leaders.”
What does being a “leader” mean? Wikipedia lists several definitions and the one I like the best is by Alan Keith who states that “Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen.”
My first boss in the big city when I started my career was a leader, a woman who challenged me and gave me projects that terrified me (in a good way), like getting me to help track and coordinate a multi-million dollar budget during the construction phase of a downtown office building. I learned project management skills during that project and the challenge allowed me to grow, to develop, and to be confident that I could do anything I set my mind to do. We had a lot of fun at work and at social events where the whole office would get together regularly.
My last boss before I started my business was also a leader. He believed in me and his management team. He worked long hours and we worked long hours because we knew our contributions were important and we didn’t want to let our “boss” down. I was so engaged at work, that when my children were young they would spout “boss-isms.” Boss-isms are statements made by my boss that I repeated at home! One of them was something his father told him, “If you are going to be a brick layer, then be the best brick layer you can be.” Sometimes they would say, “What did “boss” say today?” or if I said something that sounded like him, they would ask, “Did “boss” say that?”
I am in contact with both of these people and I am grateful that they were and are a part of my work-life. So what are the characteristics of these two different but great leaders who had such an impact. According to my experience with these two individuals, I think:
- They lead with their hearts. They are “good” people who showcase their values with words, and action.
- They give challenging projects and opportunities and provide support for success.
- They provide direction, but don’t micromanage trusting that questions will be asked if needed.
- They share the glory by acknowledging accomplishments and contributions.
- They understand the strengths and what is important to each person and provide opportunities for individuals to use those strengths.
- They believe in people and their unique abilities sometimes before people believe in themselves.
- They identify weaknesses and care enough to give that feedback because with self-awareness comes improvement.
- They develop skills and create learning opportunities, whether through formal means such as workshops or continuing education, or less formal methods, such as working on challenging projects.
- They see mistakes as learning opportunities.
- They paint a picture and communicate how individual contributions help the department or organization succeed.
- They listen and respond to ideas, questions, and people with respect and offer their wisdom and insight.
- They encourage open communication, collaboration, and a team approach, thereby creating a sense of community at work.
Sounds a lot like the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership discussed by Kouzes and Posner in their book “The Leadership Challenge:”
- Model the Way (i.e. set an example, and align actions with values)
- Inspire a Shared Vision (i.e. paint a picture of the future and share it)
- Challenge the Process (i.e. seize the initiative, make challenge meaningful)
- Enable Other to Act (i.e. develop competence and confidence, share power)
- Encourage the Heart (i.e. personal recognition and appreciation, create a spirit of community)
What are your thoughts on what makes a great leader? What do you need your manager to do today to start leading with heart? What do you need to feel engaged in what you are doing? Share your comments below!