Successful leaders are not, as many argue, born. Anyone can learn the habits that engage everyone around them. Being a leader is not holding a position with a lofty title in an organization chart. It is demonstrating habits that others relate to and seek out. A leader is able to draw people to a cause and inspire them to follow. There are many lists of what it takes to be a successful leader. Some of my personal favorites are as follows.
Number one in my book is to be approachable. Another word for approachable is vulnerable. Vulnerability is tricky because many people mistake it for weakness. As a leadership behavior, vulnerability is the root of accountability, hope, empathy, and authenticity. Being approachable means, above all, that you demonstrate that everyone is worth your time and attention.
Hard on the heels of approachable is positive. Everyone around you is fighting personal battles you know nothing about. Those battles drag them down and create barriers. Demonstrating enthusiastic hope for the future in an increasingly pessimistic world makes you a shining beacon. Being positive helps them refocus and draw out their best talents and capabilities.
Integrity and accountability are next. A phrase used to describe integrity is walk the walk. Accountability means accepting the consequences of your decisions. Together integrity and accountability mean you own your decisions and actions. You don’t deflect blame to others. Many people struggle with accountability. Being accountable is hard. In the end it is always the right thing. Mahatma Gandhi said it best - “It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.”
People worth following are humble. Humility is difficult to find in the world today. A couple of quotes that I refer to frequently are “A great man is always willing to be little” - Ralph Waldo Emerson and “A true genius admits that he knows nothing” - Albert Einstein. If you can learn to avoid putting yourself above others you can become a leader.
Finally people who are leaders understand that talent means nothing. Experience earned with hard work in a humble manner is everything. Only through experience gained in this way can leaders earn the trust of others. Hard won experience leads to authenticity. Authentic leaders are self-aware. They know and understand themselves. They know that vulnerability gives them a genuineness that helps them connect with people. Authenticity creates leaders with the ability to lead with grace. For me, a quote in the book True Grit by Charles Portis and later in the movie with Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld sums it up. “You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.” Those who are willing to pay the price of experience and apply these principles can learn to lead with grace.