When I was younger, I had an image in my head of what it meant to be a great leader. I envisioned John Wayne in one of his classic western movies, boldly taking up center stage on my television screen. He was loud and determined, decisive in his decision-making, and had an all-business demeanor.
If it wasn’t Wayne, then it was great leaders in history, strong military men like Alexander the Great and Napoleon; George Washington and the rest of the Founding Fathers; and General George S. Patton leading the Third Army deep into Nazi Germany. Patton for one was a no-nonsense, hard-driving character. He was a brilliant thinker and willed his men and himself to victory. You knew not to mess with him.
I still respect some of my early heroes, but I find that age has changed me. I see now that leaders come in different shapes and size. They’re not always the strong white guy. They could be anyone. They could be the quiet guy in the corner or the woman leader encouraging her team across the finish line. I understand too that life isn’t always black and white. In fact, most times it’s a series of grays.
For instance, I ask myself about key leadership traits:
–Loud? Why is “loud” necessary? Can’t you accomplish more with a few direct comments at the precise right time? Sometimes, in fact, the best leader is one who spends most of their time listening, so when they do speak or even whisper for that matter, they have everyone’s attention. Coach John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski, two of the winningest basketball coaches in NCAA history were were never the loudest coaches. They were meticulous in their craft and were the best at positioning their players for success.
–Determined? Okay that makes sense, but who decides if someone is more determined than another leader?
–Decisive? Yes, decisiveness is critical, but I find that most times we need to make decisions on what we know at the time. We may not have all the answers, that’s the just way it goes. We have to be resilient and flexible and work with what we have.
On second thought
My image of a leader feels more muddied now. For example, I’ve seen that sometimes the best leaders aren’t the ones who blather the most and are self important, but instead, listen to those around him or her.
Bluster doesn’t make a good leader.
I’ve been keeping track of traits that maybe didn’t mean all that much to me then, that mean a lot now. Here’s some of what I respect more now:
–Authenticity & Selflessness. I respect leaders now who are willing to be vulnerable, have integrity, show empathy and care about their troops.
–Perseverance. Leaders who are confident and believe in their teams will go a long way.
–Willingness to listen. Anybody can be a leader, it takes some special to be a leader that everyone else can get behind.
–Trust. Team members need to feel that their leader communicates with them frequently, is transparent with information, listens to them and has their best interests at heart.
Great leaders treat their leaders with respect, gaining respect in return. Yes, give me servant leader, who listens to his or her team, anytime over a selfish leader out for themselves.