I've read the books, surveyed the landscape, and interviewed the bright thinkers.
Over the past year, I've hyper-focused on this idea of what makes an excellent leader in business (and in life), and I've met with a few of them in person to pick their brain.
There's one clear trait that slowly emerged, the one I'm convinced can separate the real McCoys from the pretenders. It can make all of the difference in the world.
Good leaders don't have an attitude.
Oh, we all know how the bad leaders act in business.
They know full well they make all of the big decisions and they let you know who rules. A leader with a "big boss" attitude walks into the room and everyone cowers in deference. They shiver like they are afraid to move. This is the most powerful person at the company, the only one who can do the "real work" and make the tough financial calls.
And they are draining the life out of the company.
Leaders who act like they know everything, who have to be the first to know about everything, who control by anger and speaking louder than everyone else, and who have an air of dominance will get the most attention and people will listen to what they say.
For a while.
But they don't create an atmosphere of independent thinking or autonomy. They create an atmosphere of control. The people who work for a boss with a big attitude don't last long. They start looking for a different job, one where a different type of leader is in charge.
Here's how to be that person.
First, let go of the control. Have an attitude of serving.
Show more empathy to those who have to work for you.
Give people the latitude to make good decisions on their own.
Relate to your staff as human beings who have feelings.
Ask more questions about their kids than their tasks.
Let them fail.
Be curious enough to learn and don't just show how much knowledge you possess.
Speak loud enough to be heard, not so loud that people think you are angry.
Provide emotional support.
Laugh at your mistakes.
Enjoy the privilege.
Smile at the challenges ahead.
Embrace your own vulnerabilities.
This attitude change creates a new vibe in the office, one that says you are not the only one who has the answers but you want to facilitate the success of others. A bad leader holds back a word of praise because that reveals someone else accomplished something. A good leader gives out praise easily because he or she understands that the company will not succeed unless everyone works together as a team. Leadership is a role of encouragement.
Will it work? Does changing your attitude toward leadership really cause other people to willingly follow you? Isn't there a better recipe to make people follow using some more scientific or academic principles? Not really. Not from what I've seen.
Your attitude toward leadership is the first and best place to start if you need to make a change in your approach. Try it. And let me know if it works.