While this article may resemble yet another listicle to hack your way to leadership glory, quite frankly, it has a personal testimony attached. They are laser accounts of how I reinvented myself as a leader.
I'm not tooting my own horn. Getting to write a list like this comes with the painful prerequisite of repeated failure, all wrapped in a stained sheet of sweat, blood, and tears.
Since leadership is a journey, this is a work in progress because just when you think you've arrived at the top of the mountain, look up. You'll always find another peak to climb.
I wish I knew about these before I hit 30. These are the things I had to learn that have since strengthened my character and steered me to make good decisions as a business owner and leader.
1. Turn away from arrogance.
The best leaders demonstrate humility (like Level 5 Leaders documented in Jim Collins' Good To Great). While not exactly a "power" word, research continues to define and validate its leadership effect.
Calling myself "humble" is something I cannot do, because the very admission of it exposes you as potentially cocky. But I will say this -- I'm considerably more humble than the arrogant schmuck I once was.
I can now attest that humility will save you in close quarters when the unpredictable nature of people is involved (and when isn't this the case?).
Those with a humble disposition avoid the temptation of reacting from their bruised egos with a sarcastic comeback, put down, or stomping on the warpath for revenge. They draw instead from their inner strength, trusting in the moment to a different, better, outcome.
2. Listen to and learn from the wisdom of others.
Sure, books help, but smart leaders stretch their knowledge beyond intellectual pursuits. They continually evolve by soaking up the wisdom of others, acknowledging that they don't know it all. Remember this quote?
If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room.
I've had to rotate many rooms and pick many brains as the leader of my company. You have to! And any smart leader must view herself as a small fish in the great big pond of life -- seeking out connections and appointments from authentic wise sages to learn to do great new things, like mastering the art of pitching to investors.
3. Avoid gossipers at all cost.
I've had to learn this the hard way, so choose your inner circles carefully. Wise leaders will walk away from the moment they pick up gossipers on their radar.
At the heart of a gossiper you'll find a person devising mischief and plotting evil. It's in their nature to dig up things about other people and spread rumors like a tumor. There's an insecurity to them that if they aren't talking bad behind someone's back, or devising some kind of scheme to get their way at someone else's expense, they're not being themselves.
Let me go biblical for a second. In the old testament, gossip is referred to as "scorching fire." Think about it, fire burns and is not usually a pleasant experience when it's scorching and you are exposed to it. There are consequences in coming into contact with scorching heat or fire. Same with these types of people, you get burned by them and they cannot be trusted.
4. Exercise patience -- the antidote to a hot temper.
A leader who practices patience and is slow to anger receives far less attention and acclaim than a charismatic leader with a commanding presence but a short fuse. Yet the former has the clear edge.
If you're displaying the unbridled anger of the John McEnroe tennis racket-slamming, profanity-swearing variety from his glory days, it can hurt you much more than it does others.
I wrote about Gary Friedman, head of Restoration Hardware Holdings Inc., who earlier this year went off on his whole company with a flaming internal memo written mostly with the caps lock on. Think it hurt him? Latest financial performance was reported to be so bad, it sent the company stock value spiraling downward 55 percent.
You can usually see through hot-heads because they are easily provoked into having their way. They usually lack perspective and can't stop their impulse from jumping into the worst conclusions. They're also seen as unforgiving and are known for stirring up undeserving conflict.
On the flip side, people who exercise patience have self-control, so their conduct is steady, rational, and manageable.
In conflict, they seek to understand first before being understood, and speak little -- giving them a clear edge in communicating and diffusing someone else's anger.
Coincidentally enough, the root Hebrew translation of "understanding" is intelligence -- a person of discretion, reason, skillfulness, and wisdom.
5. Be self-aware and take in the full view.
What Gary Friedman may have benefited from to avoid a PR nightmare is some self-awareness training. A component of emotional intelligence, self-awareness belongs to people who look at the whole picture, and both sides of the issue. They tap into their feelings and those of others to choose a different outcome, like a compassionate response to solving an interpersonal problem.
Daniel Goleman, the emotional intelligence guru, says,
If your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.
6. Walk your talk, others are watching.
As the famous saying goes, "doing the right thing, even when no one is looking," isn't always easy. However, staying true to yourself and your values, even when the results are unpopular, should be a non-negotiable.
I recently wrote about how I was faced with a tough decision that tested my integrity (I was asked to lie to save a client). Listen, integrity is a choice we must keep making over and over again.
When you walk the talk, the benefits are tremendous:
- You don't question yourself.
- You command respect.
- You know truth.
- Your confidence shines for others.
- You have influence -- people listen to your words.
Lets keep the conversation going in the comments. What would you add to your own list?