The word leadership has lost its meaning in my opinion. I hear it and my ears glaze over. Leadership has become a buzz word for corporate style training programs, and it’s overuse has diluted the true meaning.
For the sake of this article, if you can please forget “everything you’ve ever heard about leadership”, that’d be super.
Reclaiming the word.
In essence, a leader isn’t at the head of a company or even a team. Everyday we show up as leaders in our lives—as a parent, partner and child. We show up as a leader when we go to work as a barista or an onboarding consultant.
You might be calling shenanigans on me right now, because it’s really hard to feel like a leader when we aren’t being recognized as one. But I would argue that ‘being a leader’ isn’t defined by the views of others, but instead: by our actions. If we aren’t showing up as a leader everyday, it’s because we choose not to.
You might (not) be surprised to know that when we poll our workshop participants, nearly 100% profess that they have no interest in leading other people. They say that they never wanted the responsibility, that they don’t feel competent in the role and that they have never felt deserving of the title. I can sympathize.
I tried really, really, hard not to be a leader. I didn’t want to tell my staff what to do. I mean, “the the hell was I” to tell other people what to do? I treated them like little managers, professionals, and captains of their own domain—empowered to ask questions when they hit roadblocks or need direction. As it turns out, my idealistic management structure was a disaster (shocker). My team was craving leadership, and I was losing staff because I wasn’t stepping up. I learned that I can’t expect my team to work with me if I didn’t define the proper scope and goal of each project, facilitate critical two way communication or illustrate our workplace culture.
Out of necessity, I had to wrap my head around how I was going to cuddle up to the role of ‘leadership’. After a year of some heavy experimentation, research and trial/error I finally realized that leadership isn’t a position, it’s a refinement and upgrading of my core human skills.
Being a leader is not about learning new organizational theories and management practices, it’s about transforming my internal world and developing higher level skills in the way that I interface with myself and the people around me.
Yes, I know how vague that sounds. Conveniently for you, I unpacked this into an easy to digest list. Here are 6 key traits that I believe you can recognize in amazing leaders.
THE SIX CRITICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF VALUABLE LEADERS
Self awareness is critical. If I am not able to take stock of how I act, and subsequently how I impact upon the people and work around me, then I simply can’t see the full ecosystem that I am apart of.
Being receptive doesn’t mean being accepting. We can listen empathetically and receptively and still disagree, correct or re-direct.
The true challenge for me in being receptive is sitting with the uncomfortable. It’s difficult to leave problems unsolved or allow a staff member to work through their own lessons when my reflex is to fix and comfort.
Being discerning directly correlates to high quality in my eyes. Having good judgement and the strength to be swift and firm in its application saves time, money, and conflict.
It’s the balance between being cut throat and being too lenient. There is no rule book for good judgement, and we can’t allow past mistakes to become evidence for future decisions. Instead, being discerning is a skill and muscle that I hone and apply flexibly each and every day.
Leading by example and genuinely caring about my craft is the singular reason why I believe that I am fit to lead. If I’ve got nothing else going for me, my hope is that my passion for my craft will inspire others to work with me to build something.
I’ve always been useless at boundaries. Boundaries are my achilles heel. But, I’m working on it all the time and am proud to say that my spinal regeneration rehab is going well. As it stands, I believe my boundaries to exist inside and out.
The boundaries within myself appear to be the gatekeeper to external boundaries. If I can value my own time, get to work early and plan reading, podcasts, fun and exercise into my days—then setting boundaries with other human beings seems to flow naturally.
As for my external boundaries: when setting boundaries with staff, clients and colleagues I expect that they will respect my time, manage their emotions (don’t put their *schmidt* on me), and communicate their thoughts and needs. I reinforce these expectations with my actions.
More than anything, I now understand that being a leader means accepting the humanness of my social interactions. The way that I show up shifts—ever so slightly—every day, along the emotional / developmental maturity of my staff and clients.
I my opinion, good leaders give space for people to be human, within their boundaries and with discernment.