What kind of leaders have had the biggest impact on you?
I’ve had the privilege of serving under numerous outstanding leaders, and I’ve noticed that, though they might be very different in personality, background and style, they tend to share some of the same qualities.
The leadership examples in my own life that I aspire to emulate are those that are:
I will never forget the first time I met one particular leader I’ve served under. A variety of team members had spent the day meeting in a conference room at an off-site venue. Everyone had cleared out of the room after a day of exercises, worksheets and discussions. After heading back to my hotel room to change, I was headed outside, and I had to walk back past the conference room. Inside, I saw our leader alone in the room, clearing up papers and straightening up the room, so that it wasn’t so messy for the cleaner to find that night. I quickly went in to help, and right at that moment, I knew this was the kind of leader I wanted to follow. It was also the kind of leader I wanted to be.
Believers in others –
Throughout my career, I have been extraordinarily blessed to serve under a number of leaders who have given me opportunities to stretch beyond what I thought I could do, and to pursue a project or role they believed I could do. Those leaders pushed me to grow both in my own competencies and skills, but also in my conception of my own leadership. They believed in me, and gave me the chance to live up to it. I want to do that for other people – I want to see the gold in them, and set them up to win by giving them the opportunity and support to discover it in themselves.
One of the things I greatly respect is seeing leaders who are also learners. I’ve served under many of these kind of leaders. I remember one particular leader I’ve served under changing a long-held opinion on something after meeting a number of people who brought more experience on the subject than they did, and hearing how they thought about it differently.
Leaders who are learners are people who adjust their thinking as they encounter new information and experiences. They identify an area or subject they want to know more about, and they seek out experts, enrol in courses, read new books. They aren’t afraid to try new things – to experiment and learn. I never want to be the kind of leader who gets complacent; who feels like they know enough now. I want to be like the leaders who are constant learners.
I was once a part of a leadership team with an very secure leader who encouraged strong and forthright conflict of ideas. When there was something that really mattered at issue, it was more important that we genuinely work it through to resolution together – even if it took a while – than that we just tick off that a decision had been made and move on.
Looking back now, I realise that it was an unusually open and healthy approach to debate, but one that grew each of us as leaders, as well as our bond with each other. It also helped us to better understand all aspects of the area we were responsible for, by teasing out the pros and cons of ideas together. I want to be the kind of leader who is comfortable having my ideas challenged, and who makes others feel secure enough to ask good questions and offer up their best ideas.
Ultimately, the kind of leaders I aspire to are leaders of character. Leaders who exhibit traits like patience, kindness, self-discipline, joy, and peace in the midst of turmoil. That’s what impresses me, and that’s what I want to be like.
Now, yes, I also want them to have a brain in their head, to be a thinking person, and to generally know what they are doing.
But here’s the thing. Leaders can always delegate around gaps in their own competencies. But gaps in your character? You can’t delegate that away.
In leadership, character is make or break, regardless of how well you staff your team will a rich suite of talents and competencies.
I am so grateful to have had the example of so many great leaders throughout my personal and professional life, and I want to work hard to emulate these, and many other, qualities that they have modelled.
What other qualities have the best leaders in your life demonstrated? What kind of characteristics do you to aspire to model?