Try this exercise with me.
Who do you consider a great leader? Don’t limit yourself to just those in the business world or to well-known philanthropists or celebrities, but reflect on everyday people — those in your social circle and those who may influence your life or your children’s lives. The cashier at the grocery store, an elementary school teacher, a neighbor, a friend of your child’s.
When you think about these people and the characteristics they possess, try to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes them a leader. What I think you’ll find — and what I find when I perform this exercise in my own life — is that each one has connected with you on an emotional or perhaps even a spiritual level. An interaction with them has likely led you to feel cared for, important, seen, understood, or inspired. Perhaps they simply made you feel human or worthy in a downtrodden or vulnerable moment.
So while only a small portion of us have an innate leadership ability, intrinsic to the very fiber of our beings, every single one of us has the potential to be kind, thoughtful, and generous and define leadership in our own special way.
Leadership in My Life
When I look at the leaders I’ve crossed paths with in my life, they are each VERY different people. Their characteristics cover a vast expanse — extroverted, charismatic, earnest, humble, methodical, resourceful, and witty, just to name a few.
None of them are what I would consider “natural leaders” either. Instead, they have developed and honed those skills and characteristics over months, years, and decades, usually after stumbling upon an idea, topic, or cause that sparked their passion.
So even though they are each radically different people in terms of personalities, goals, and backgrounds, I would consider each a true leader. They care deeply about others, build their relationships upon a series of emotional connections, and quite frankly, they’re simply first-rate human beings who lead with their hearts.
A Pathway to Leadership
After talking to leaders in my life and thinking about their unique skillsets, I’ve pinpointed a handful of qualities each one possesses. Remember, these are people who were not necessarily born with natural leadership talent, but who have positively impacted others just by being a stand-up person and sticking to these qualities:
Emphasize empathy. Leaders seek to understand and identify with those around them, even when differences between individuals may seem insurmountable from the outside looking in. They can often anticipate the needs of others, springing into action to remedy a situation before a true issue evolves.
Care until it hurts. Leaders simply care about people. Period. They want them to be healthy, happy, and feel welcomed and appreciated. They view others as equals and form partnerships and relationships with ease. They encourage others to find their paths and are often integral to an individual’s success in doing so.
Forgive. Leaders understand that people, including themselves, make mistakes. They don’t dwell on the error or hold it over someone’s head, and instead, forgive and move on. They may not forget the mistake, but they certainly will draw a lesson from it to avoid going down the same path in the future.
Honest, yet direct. Leaders tend to have an incredible command of language, and with that, a knack for being brutally honest, but in a way that others find welcoming and refreshing. It’s a little uncanny the first time you experience it. At first, you think, “Wow, I can’t believe she actually said that to me! I’m so mad,” which eventually turns into, “Wow! She really said that to me, and she’s absolutely right. She gets me and cares about me too.”
Transparent. Leaders don’t have some elaborate hidden agenda or ulterior motive. They are open about their intentions, goals, and the methods they intend to utilize to get there. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have some tricks up their sleeve, but by and large, employees, friends, and acquaintances can easily identify a leader’s guiding principles.
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What characteristics do the leaders in your life possess? Please join the conversation below.