When people have conversations about great leaders, there are names that always come to mind: Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, the latest TED-talker du jour... Everyone has an idea of a great leader they would add to the list. But what makes these people so great? Is it their effective leadership skills, their vision, their drive?
I sat down with six leaders in their own right, those tasked with the day-to-day of helping create these leadership legends. They each shared their thoughts on what effective leadership looks like to them, which may help you amp up your own or even your company’s leadership level of awesome.
Effective Leadership Calls for Working Through Fear
Carey Lohrenz is the CEO of Carey Lohrenz Enterprises, a fighter pilot (the first female F-14 Tomcat Fighter Pilot in the U.S. Navy, to be exact) and the author of Fearless Leadership: High Performance Lessons from the Flight Deck. Lohrenz is also a leadership consultant and keynote speaker for top Fortune 500 companies, helping them build high-performing teams. She says:
The best leaders are those who can work through fear and do what needs to be done in spite of that fear. Great leaders set a clear vision for their team that both inspires and aligns the team, while staring fear, uncertainty and discomfort in the face. They aren’t content to rest on their laurels—ever. And they don’t make excuses about why they can’t take the next step forward on their leadership journey.
Be Better for Everyone
Leadership coach John Michael Morgan is known for his high energy and passion when teaching proven strategies designed to help achievers reach their goals. He’s the founder of The Achievers Alliance, a personal development coaching program designed to equip leaders and entrepreneurs with the tools they need to achieve success. He had this to say about effective leadership:
Great leaders understand that nothing improves until you improve. If you want your team to be better, you must be better. Improvement in results starts with improvement in yourself. Spend more time working on yourself than your team and you'll be equipped to lead them to success.
Learning Never Stops
Marc A. Pittman, CEO of Concord Leadership Group, which helps nonprofit executives and board members navigate leadership and funding issues in their organizations, believes effective leadership is that which pushes people to continue learning.
Great leaders have a surprising blend of humility and nerve. They are humble enough to know they don't know it all. So they are lifelong learners who encourage the people around them to continue learning and growing too. But great leaders also have the nerve to make decisions and take action. Even when they know they won't please everyone. This risk-taking chutzpah can sometimes surprise people, but nothing would get accomplished without it. And because great leaders are humble enough to invest in the growth of people around them, their risk-taking nerve tends to not burn relationships with the people they lead.
—John Michael Morgan, founder, The Achievers Alliance
It's About Empowering, Not Directing
Robert Rose is the chief strategy advisor for the Content Marketing Institute. His role is to help marketers tell their story more effectively through digital media. Over the last five years, Rose has worked with more than 500 companies of all sizes, including 15 of the Fortune 100. He’s provided strategic marketing advice and counsel for global brands such as Capital One, Dell, Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft and UPS. For Rose, effective leadership can be broken down into three traits.
The first is they demonstrate that they use their position to provide safety. They instill confidence in the ability for teams to be creative, take risks and communicate truthfully without fear. The second is that great leaders rarely direct, as much as empower others to self-organize and activate. The effective leader doesn’t have followers, she has other leaders for whom she clears the way. Third, but perhaps most importantly, great leaders have an innate ability to foster a sense of belonging. When this is fully realized, it's not simply creating a sense of shared purpose in each individual, but rather it is when each individual realizes, and more importantly cares, why everyone on the team matters.
The Nonverbal Cues of Great Leaders
Mark Bowden is widely recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on nonverbal communication. As founder of TRUTHPLANE, Bowden trains groups and individuals on how to use their body language to stand out, win trust and gain credibility every time they communicate. His clients include presidents and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and prime ministers of G8 powers. Bowden believes nonverbal cues are just as important to effective leadership as the aforementioned qualities.
As social mammals, we humans have an instinct for organizing into groups to increase survival. These groups have leaders. We have a simple system for quickly working out which of us might be a great leader: first we look for who is calm and assertive. We gauge this through rhythms of movement. If another’s actions are deliberate, direct and give a clear result, then it triggers a sense of “benefit” around them.
Next, we look to see if they control valuable resources. This can be predicted from the amounts of space they occupy. We look to see if they maximize or minimize their territory—are they expansive or contracted in their gestures. Finally, we take stock of how consistent these behaviors are. We look for evidence that these calm, assertive and expansive behaviors are not just one-off events but show up repeatedly. Through all of this, we make assumptions that another is trustworthy, credible and followable—and we can make these calculations in seconds. That’s why some people just “feel” like a great leader to us, even before they have uttered a single word.
Take People Where They Need to Go
Christopher S. Penn of SHIFT Communications is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology. A recognized thought leader, author and speaker, he has shaped three key fields in the marketing industry: Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR and email marketing. Known for his high-octane, here’s-how-to-get-it-done approach, his expertise benefits companies such as Citrix Systems, McDonald’s, GoDaddy and McKesson. Effective leadership is about providing others with motivation, he says.
A poor leader doesn’t take us anywhere, or takes us in the wrong direction.
A good leader takes us where we want to go.
A great leader takes us where we need to go.
The best leaders convince us to lead with them.
As with all journeys, we need the means to get there, a legitimate opportunity to make the journey, and the motivation to open the door and take the first step. A great leader provides us the motivation. We have to look for the opportunity. Our businesses must provide the means.
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