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What makes a leader... a LEADER?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines leadership as 'the office or position of a leader, the capacity to lead, and the act or instance of leading...' I don't know about you, but ol' Merriam & Webster left a lot to be desired with that definition.

Let's see if we can do better. I'm going to tackle this subject with a series of questions. I acknowledge that some of the qualities I'm about to list are not mutually exclusive, but they are good guide posts on which direction we want to pursue.

  1. Fear or Inspiration? We've all had bosses we're afraid of and we've hopefully all had bosses we are inspired by and WANT to do perform for. In my experience consulting with multimillion dollar agencies down to local mom and pops, leadership that is dominated by fear results in FEAR BASED decisions. Team members will answer with what they think superiors want to hear, or will hide problems (which will be left to fester) instead of giving honest opinions and seeking solutions.

On the other hand... I have also observed and coached leadership with kindness and empathy are so strong it restricts leaders from addressing problems. In extreme cases this even results in a person who is clearly not suited for a role (and is miserable in it) staying on board to avoid a hard but quick and direct conversation. Instead that person stays in a painful position where both they and the team suffer.

2. Decisive or Inclusive? Does effective leadership mean making the tough calls, explaining them clearly, and directing their team to execute? I would say the best leaders I've worked under and coached have had a common trait of "vision" and an ability to express it to their team.

Sometimes leaders have to mute the noise and make these decisions on their own, however many of the strongest leaders seek council, give ownership and autonomy to those around them, and then after deliberation make the call they see as the best move forward.

I consider myself an extroverted introvert. I can turn it on infront of a camera or audience however I like my time alone at the end of the day. Some of my favorite moments are sipping a cup of coffee in the morning, having an end of the week margarita with my husband, or walking my two dogs with a podcast playing in my ears. Enough about me.... people who can exhibit extrovert tendencies are more often considered to have "leadership" potential. While this may be accurate, it is leaving a huge segment of the population out. Introverts are observers and they learn from others' successes and failures in ways extroverts may often miss (because we're too busy blabbing away... bless our hearts.)

Some of the best ideas I've seen come out of brainstorms are from the introverts, the quiet ones who listen, take things in, and then deliberately assess and share their solution with the team. Introverts' superpower is the ability to listen and learn... they make great leaders and great leaders listen to the introverts on their teams.

3. Servant Leader or Commander? Servant leaders believe THEY are working for their team - not the other way around. Servant leaders absorb the stresses from above and filter it out so their team doesn't make the "fear based" decisions we discussed above. Servant leaders believe their role is to grow their organization, their mission, and most importantly their people. While this style of leadership is proven to produce loyalty, lower turnover, and healthier company culture, it can result in a lack of accountability if the leader isn't able to have the tough conversations, but a true servant leader has those "tough talks" because at the end of the day they are what's best for their people and their company.

The commander certainly gets things done and while team members may gripe about he or she at happy hour, productivity is high. A commander isn't looking for best friends in the office, he or she has them outside of work, they are looking for results. Now when this quality goes unchecked it can result in the fear based decision making we discussed above, which is no bueno.

So as I finish my first cup of morning coffee I will come to my conclusion for today's post... A good leader is a mix of everything we've discussed. They're empathetic and direct. They are looking to grow the individual and the company. The listen and give autonamy and known when to make the call themselves when the time is right.

My hope for you is two fold. First, I hope you work with a leader who inspires, listens, looks to grow those around them, and is direct in their communication. Second, I hope you realize you are the leader and CEO of your own life. You are sitting in the C Suite of your personal brand, Be a leader for yourself, have an open heart and trust yourself to make the right decisions when it is time.




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