I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about leadership. It's not something that's on my mind, typically; there's entirely too much work to be done to sit around dissecting and diagramming such a thing. But when I was invited to speak to a group of government leaders about how to be an inspired leader in difficult times--I knew I had some soul searching to do.
What on earth do I have to say on this topic? It was a valid question. Not so long ago (ha) I was a young entrepreneur doing the best I could to balance the demands of a growing business with the responsibilities of being a single mother. As a result little Eliza spent many weekends and holidays with me at the office. (It did not bring her joy.) Early one Saturday I parked her at the receptionist's desk where she prayed the phone would ring and she would get to answer it: "C.C.Rigg’s! This is Eliza! How may I help you?"
It never happened. So on this day I loaded her up with paper and pencils and colored markers and tape and gave her all sorts of instructions about things she might do. Then I went to my office and commenced to cleaning out files.
Sensing her dissatisfaction, I picked up the phone, buzzed the reception desk, and in my most professional voice said into the intercom, "Eliza, this is Miss Cathy. Would you please go to the refrigerator and get a Diet Coke, put it in a koozie and bring it to me?" Diet Coke delivered, my tiny receptionist returned to her desk and within 15 seconds my telephone intercom buzzed.
"Cathy," said this little five-year-old voice. "Would you please go to the refrigerator and get a Sprite, put it in a koozie and bring it to me?"
"Honey," I said, now in my Mom voice. "I'm the boss and you're the worker. That means you do things for me."
"Humph," she said, hanging up the receiver.
When the day was done we drove straight to her favorite restaurant where we parked catacorner in the Sonic drive-in and she made the big move to sit in the front seat, with me. "Let's play TEENAGERS!" she said. And so I turned to her and asked in my best teenager voice, "So Eliza, what have you been up to?"
"I've just been working at the hospital," she said.
"The hospital!" I said, surprised. "When did you start working at the hospital? The last time we talked you were working at an advertising agency!"
"I was," she said. "But there was this lady there, and all she did was boss me around, so I quit."
Thankfully, I spent the next 25 years in the company of some pretty remarkable leaders, many of whom were my clients. I do my best to pay attention, to go beneath the surface of things, and so as I thought through it, I realized they all have some things in common. Following is a greatly abbreviated overview.
GREAT LEADERS KNOW THE "WHY" OF THEIR ORGANIZATION. THEY ALSO KNOW THEIR PERSONAL "WHY."
Have you seen Simon Sinek’s TED talk HOW GREAT LEADERS INSPIRE ACTION? “People don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it,” he says of great brands and companies. I believe Sinek is onto something important and revolutionary. I know it’s true in marketing and branding. But I believe it’s also true when it comes to us as individuals, as human beings, as leaders.
Do you know your WHY? Do you know what drives you? Do you know what you value? Do you know what you believe?
GREAT LEADERS LEAD FROM THE SPACE OF THEIR CONVICTIONS.
They inspire rather than command—they tell us what they believe, not what should be done.
GREAT LEADERS CONNECT HUMAN TO HUMAN.
Soul to soul. Heart to heart. THE REAL ME SEES THE REAL YOU. This matters because as human beings, what we want most is to be seen, heard and validated.
GREAT LEADERS PAY ATTENTION TO INTENTION.
They identify the right problems. Then they get to the why.
GREAT LEADERS BUILD TRUST ALL AROUND.
They create and foster an environment in which people feel safe—not only with regard to "management," but also co-workers. They do this by knowing their convictions (see #1 and #2 above) and standing for them, on behalf of the people they lead.
There is much more to say about each, including wonderful examples from people I greatly respect. I think I'll spend some time in this space doing just that. But for now, I'd love to hear your perspective. Comment or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from you.