Poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou famously stated, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Starting on the journey toward great leadership demands having to face some brutal truths about what truly defines leadership success. However, it may not be what you want to hear (or read).
1. Leaders must face conflict to solve problems.
Conflict is unavoidable when human beings are involved. Rather than being passive-aggressive, true leaders are aware that cutting through conflict with active listening skills to understand a situation from all angles is a much faster solution to resolving an issue than running away from conflict and avoiding people.
2. Leaders must grow people.
Leaders with a high degree of integrity make it a top priority to know their people in order to grow their people. They spend considerable time pouring into the lives of others through mentoring and by exposing them to new responsibilities that will stretch their development. Leaders who fall short with their commitments to growing and improving their people will likely fail at forming lasting relationships that lead to results.
3. Leaders must put employees ahead of customers.
Every leader's role should be about serving the employees -- those who are closest to the customer experience, first. Great leaders realize that their No. 1 customer is their employees. If they take care of their people, train them, and empower them, those people will become fully engaged about what they do. In turn, they will reach out and take care of their second most important customer--the people who buy their products or services.
4. Leaders must make the workplace safe.
Research on psychological safety by Amy Edmondson of Harvard indicates that when leaders foster a culture of safety -- meaning employees are free to speak up, experiment, give feedback, and ask for help -- it leads to better learning and performance outcomes. When psychological safety is absent, fear is present. And fear is detrimental to achieving a company's full potential.
5. Leaders must be willing to listen to feedback.
Many leaders don't want to listen to ideas, opinions, and constructive feedback from others about their own leadership. For such leaders, cutting themselves off means that they operate in an ego-system, not an ecosystem. A true leader who listens well is open and accountable; he probes and asks questions and listens to understand--with a focus on the future, not on a rehash of the past.
6. Leaders must apply the strength of vulnerability.
Some might say vulnerability is too touchy-feely for business. Others may say they're just not wired for it -- it's not in their personality makeup. Neither is true. Vulnerability is about trust -- the backbone of successful leadership. Employees and leaders who trust one another learn to be comfortable being open to one another around their failures, weaknesses, even fears. Vulnerability-based trust is predicated on the simple--and practical idea -- that people who aren't afraid to admit the truth are not going to engage in the kind of political drama that sucks away everyone's time and energy and, more important, gets in the way of accomplishing goals and results.
7. Leaders must act with love and care.
In a world of empty promises, manipulation, and deception, a true leader cares for the well-being of others; she shows commitment to advancing the best interests of those around her. The word "love," in a leadership-at-work sense, is not a feeling -- it's a verb; it's packed with action. It shows up in meeting the needs of others to get results, clearing obstacles from people's path, and empowering others to succeed as workers and human beings. It has intrinsic value for both leader and employee. Ultimately, it's this kind of love that defines the best CEOs on the planet.