Qualities of authentic leadership
From my student days in the library in College and coming across Tom Peters I have been hooked on what it takes to lead effectively. So much has been written on the subject, personally I'm fascinated be it. When I talk about leadership, I am not necessarily talking about being the CEO, my definition of a leader would be “someone who leads people in achieving a vision or plan”.
I have experienced many different leaders in different work environment and cultures over the course of my career. From my young and heady days in APC in a global role managing process and system integrations on newly acquired companies to Microsoft where I led projects across EMEA & the US, to my 4 years with Digicel in the Caribbean & more recently with indigenous Irish companies. I have had a diversity of experiences in terms of people and cultures which has been interesting and enjoyable for the most part & I’ve learned so much along the way to from my own opinion on what makes an effective leader. It is often easier to think of those who perhaps are not so effective, as we have all seen, if not in our work lives, the public figures led by ego and incapable of having their positions or policies questioned and how that manifests in disharmony, ineffective results, waste, and churn.
Reflecting on my own experiences, here are 5 key qualities that I feel are reflected in good leaders.
Down to Earth
We all have ego and its necessary to drive us on in whatever goal or motivation we have. However, too much ego blinds us and needs to be balanced. Self-awareness, being open to feedback and change are a key to balancing ego and being down to earth. This means being open, honest, balanced, calm, and trustworthy. Good leaders show up as themselves fully, what you see is what you get, no acting, truthful and you can just tell they are authentic. While they may be accomplished and skillful, they are humble and care more about their purpose and mission than about what they may gain personally. I think of Nelson Mandela as someone who embodied this fully.
Good leaders are believable. There is no in-congruence between their words and actions. The show by example what they believe in and where their values lie. Whatever their style or personality you can tell that they are clear in their vision and conviction. They do this in how they behave not just in formal communications, but in every facet of their interactions with everyone they encounter. They believe in themselves, the vision, and the ability for the organization to achieve it and they believe in you. They are excellent communicators and can convey their messages with ease and grace. They are inspiring and make people feel part of a mission that is greater than themselves. Their vision inspires, & people understand the positive ripples it will have not solely for the organization, but for customers, the wider ecosystem and the rewards it will bring in your own career trajectory.
They care about People
Love and care may not be something that automatically comes to mind when we think of leadership, I am not talking about touchy/feely love; I am talking about the love where you want to see someone grow, do their best, overcome their limitations and you will encourage and sometimes push them to go beyond. Good leaders are kind & loving. They show a real interest in people, and their people know that they care. And sometimes it is the tough love that gives the hard messages and lessons. They listen & take feedback and act on it. They show that they believe in you when you do not. necessarily believe in yourself. This has the power to lift you to greater heights of personal performance & also build incredible trust and loyalty.
They make time to Listen
One of the greatest gifts is having a leader who will make time to listen. To be seen and heard is one of our most basic needs as human beings. Leaders who wholeheartedly focus on you with active listening is a powerful reminder that they really care & that you count. This can make all the difference, particularly in organizations that can sometimes be harshly and doggedly focused on performance. Knowing your leader listens and acknowledges your point of view is valuable and supports engagement and motivation.
Vacillating on decision making is one area that cripples teams and organizations. Good leaders have an ability to assess a situation, review the data & facts and make a call on a change of direction or course of action quickly. A good leader can think on their feet and even with incomplete data. They have the necessary conviction and courage to break through whatever bureaucracy and barriers there may be to drive or subvert a course of action to the benefit of the organization. This gives the people in their teams the comfort & confidence that they are effectively steering them and the organization in the right direction.