I have been thinking about leadership quite a bit lately. After 20+ years in marketing, observing the collective experiences of me, my colleagues and friends, I am struck by how truly great leaders seem to be few and far between. I could easily count the ones I have known on one hand. If I had three fingers.
I have been accused from time to time of being a decent leader. Yet, believe me, I know I have a lot of room for improvement. Truly outstanding, inspiring leadership is DAMN HARD.
The hardest part, in my opinion, is finding it in yourself to rise above all of the myriad obstacles to optimism and inspiration, and somehow pass inspiration to those around you — even when you may not be overflowing with it yourself at a particular moment in time. Now THAT, if you can do it, is a skill worth talking about. If you can do that, you have my utmost respect. Period. Tell me who you are and how you do it. I would like to take you to lunch. Seriously.
But if, like me, you are working on this skill very hard, here, are just a few thoughts on truly great, inspiring leadership.
First and foremost, people will do as you do, no matter what you say. I am a huge believer in leading by example. If you work 9-5 like clockwork, don’t expect your team to burn the midnight oil in search of greatness, no matter how many times you tell them to. Like it or not, culture rolls downhill. And it rolls from the very top, not from the middle.
Listen to what your team tells you is going on. Not halfway — ALL IN. Really listen. They are closer to most situations than you are. Not listening and responding to their concerns is the fastest way to communicate to them that you a) don’t get it b) don’t care or c) do not appreciate what they are trying to accomplish or how hard they are working. Empathy is critical. And I don’t care if you are Mars or Venus; if you plan to lead a team, you need to genuinely give a damn about what your people are saying. If your team has no empathy with you, you have no team.
Do you understand and practice the simple power of “thank you”? For highly self-motivated people, a little bit of sincere appreciation for what they do for you day in and day out means a great deal and provides more fuel for their fire than any amount of making demands ever will. When was the last time you told your team “thank you”, like you REALLY mean it? I have had a couple of leaders who did this really well, and it was a gift. You know who you are – THANK YOU.
Great leadership, like social media, is mostly stuff we learned in kindergarten, but forget to do. Behave well. Listen. Show you care. So why is it so often overlooked? There is more to it, obviously: Vision. Strategy. Being tough when you need to be tough. But I believe that the basics of quality human interaction are just as important.
When @deziner and I were road tripping to Madison last week to speak on social media strategy, we talked about more than our impending visit to the Lazy Oaf Lounge (and the attached Urgent Care). We talked about what makes great leadership. And she has a fantastic metaphor in her video post: Leadership in times of trouble or tornadoes.
What would you add? How can leaders can go from good (or not so good) to great?
Photo credit: Dunechaser; Flickr Creative Commons