We hear so much about what it takes to be a great leader. So much I can barely imagine living up to it.
So, I prefer to ask the question differently; what do I want in my leader? When that’s the question, the answer and description are quite different.
I need a leader who doesn’t appear to be perfect or have all the answers. This person, likely more skilled (in their own area) than me is also ideally wiser, more seasoned, and “been around the blocks a few times.” But none of those descriptors releases them from the need to talk openly about their own journey, the highs and the lows, their biggest mistakes, and an ongoing awareness that they didn’t land in their current role with an unblemished record of success. I need to know the potholes you stepped in and those that humbled you and fundamentally made you better. I want you to share them freely, not to set the standard lower, but the opposite. If I can see the snake in front of me, I’ll take a different path. So, for those leaders out there reading this who think you have us fooled: SURPRISE! Stop trying to fool us, instead sit us down and tell us your doozies. Why you did it? What you were thinking? What were the pressures you were facing? Bring us in…close…to guide us when we face the same.
I need a leader who I can identify with. Sure it’s likely you’re older and more experienced than me (but not always), but I need, crave even, a relationship where I can see some of me in you. Perhaps a younger more foolish, less mature you, but HELLO IN THERE – IS ANYBODY HOME? Anyone who thinks, and acts, as I do? Or at least did at some point in your life. You’ll not just earn my brain and my back, but my heart when I feel like we have a connection. Anything, passion for reading, sports, movies, Game of Thrones, tangerine popsicles, I’ll take anything. Please come closer to me, because it’s really difficult and even awkward for me to come closer to you. I don’t need a buddy – either do you. I need a leader who I can relate to in terms of my fears, passions, goals, and insecurities. Just tell me I’m not the only one afflicted with this thing called Imposter Syndrome. I simply need to know I’m not the only one. That you were on the same journey and also saw a few snakes along the hike.
I need to surround myself with the best possible people so my “average” is that of those better than me, not worse. What’s that adage, “tell me who your friends are, and I’ll know who you are.” The same applies to my professional life. Please don’t ever cheat. Lie or steal. Please don’t date your assistant or your own leader. Please don’t count revenue that doesn’t exist or ever ask me to do the same. I need you to set the standard (even if I don’t really know I do) so that I aspire to your level of character, values, and standards. What you do and say sets the culture and will have a long-term impact on how I behave someday when I’m the leader. I suspect it will be tempting and you’ll feel enormous pressure to “cook the books.” Don’t, we’re all watching you. What you do has a direct correlation to what I do. Please don’t forget it.
I need a role model. Set the standard for what you want to see in me: Intellectual Curiosity. Emotional Intelligence. Collaboration. Offering sincere apologies without excuses. Forgiveness. Challenging your own existing mindsets and skills. Respect for people vastly different than you. Kindness. High levels of quality and making and keeping promises. Working hard and working smart. You get it. What you do, I will too.
A Genius Maker
I need you to pull out my genius and check your own. In Liz Wiseman’s seminal leadership book, Multipliers, she popularized a concept that shifts all of us (me included) from being what she calls the “genius in the room” to becoming “the genius maker of others.” Don’t always be the smartest person in the room. It’s exhausting and we’re all fatigued by it. And you must also be a bit tired from it as well. I bet its fatiguing to always be the smartest, most educated, and creative. Instead, summon the security we know you have (and perhaps lost because your leader treats you this way) and focus on making us the geniuses. Pull out our creativity, ideals, experiences, and raw intelligence. Let us solve the problems and feel some wins. We know you’re capable, we now want to know we are as well.
What do you want in your leader?
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