Leadership failures are failures of the soul. They are always the result of people losing sight of who they are, what their real job is and what the right thing is to do. We tend to make leader heroes out of those who have the sexiest products, the most successful innovations, the best financial results or IPO’s. Those are all great results, but they are just that: the results of great leadership. But what is the actual secret leadership sauce that is the catalyst for creating results like these? There are lots of combinations of things, which definitely include external as well as internal factors. But when you examine those stellar leadership stories, you will generally find individuals who understand that these 5 building blocks are key for creating a foundation for great leadership.
1. You must become deeply self-aware and then get over yourself. Sounds strange, I know, but it is true. I talk a lot about the importance of self-awareness in leadership. It is a key component of emotional intelligence. But what isn’t talked about very often is the interconnected and essential next step: getting over yourself. Only then can you become the kind of leader who is fully focused on those around you who have placed their trust in you. When you are able to suspend your own ego, you can really see and hear what people need to be at their best. You can lead with laser-like focus, listen whole-heartedly, coach insightfully and help people, and your organization, reach their fullest potential. You have to do your own work first, but don’t stop there. Ultimately, as a great leader, it is never, ever about you, it is always about others.
2. If you are really lucky, leadership will break your heart, break it wide open. Something, someone, some situation will awaken in you the universal vulnerability of the human experience. It will be humbling. You will be leading a group and then something will happen to you or to someone you lead: a child may become ill, there may be a diagnosis of cancer, someone may die or there may be a catastrophic failure. From the humility gained from this experience your role as a leader will forever change. Your perspective will widen to include a broader definition of what is important. Your thinking will become more integrated and holistic. This will change your priorities and how you approach achievement, for yourself and for your team. Your heart will fill with compassion and at last you will truly lead, from the heart AND from the head. You will lead with a vigor and fearlessness that you have never before experienced. Effortlessly, you will begin to notice that you are seeing the best in people, the potential perfection in each of them. And because you can see it clearly, you can help others see it in themselves. You will engage with people on a different level and great things will happen.
3. One of the greatest gifts you can give to those you lead is to be happy, no matter what is going on. Happiness is not a temporal emotion. It is a state of mind and it is one you have to choose. There are good days and bad ones as a leader: successes and failures, calmness and stress. The onslaught of challenges never stops. In fact, they come at you with a velocity that is ferocious. The volume of things over which you have no control will increase daily. The only thing that you control, and that you control forever, is you and how you choose to respond to life’s events. You must decide ahead of time to be happy no matter what situation arises. Circumstances don’t determine your happiness, you do. Stay mentally focused and do not let yourself become distracted by the outside situations that you face. When your team sees you happy, determined to not let anything ruin your day, your optimism or your impact, they will learn to do the same. This will create resilience, confidence and, ultimately, more success. It will change you, your team and your workplace, forever.
4. The only measure of success that matters is yours. While judging yourself as successful by way of specific achievements is tempting, don’t succumb to this temptation because sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you will fail. That does not mean that you are a failure. But through failure or facing any difficult times, you will learn that you and only you can define success for yourself. Other people’s definitions of success are moving targets. Set your own target. Is it what you achieve, or how you achieve it? Is it a combination? What is the balance? Whatever it is, remember this: Look inside yourself, not outside.
5. The ultimate reward of being a great leader is when you realize that you don’t need to be rewarded. In fact, you actually come to realize that there is a sanctity that is inherent in being a great leader. The fact that people are willing to follow you is a tremendous honor and it carries great responsibility for being the best you can be as a human being. Only when you are relentless in your quest to be the best you can be, can you fulfill your ultimate responsibility, which is to help others do the same. When this happens, your state of mind shifts from expecting to receive “Thank you’s” to giving them, with deep gratitude. Miraculously and happily, you realize with clarity that this is the reward in and of itself.
Sheila Madden is the CEO of Madden Coaching & Consulting where she coaches and consults with leaders of high growth companies, individuals wanting to live an extraordinary life and young professionals who are ready to launch their careers with competence, confidence and character.
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