Warren Buffett once asked a group of students to think of a classmate they felt had the makings of success long term, such that they would want to get 10 percent of that person's earnings for the rest of their lives.
"You would probably pick the one you responded the best to, the one who has the leadership qualities, the one who is able to get other people to carry out their interests," said Buffett, alluding to that person's integrity. "That would be the person who is generous, honest, and who gave credit to other people for their own ideas."
Buffett's examples of leadership qualities are in short supply these days. As we collectively recover from the wounds inflicted by Capitol rioters, one thing is perfectly clear: We need more leaders with moral integrity to occupy highly influential roles within both our political ranks and the ranks of corporate America.
To shift strategy means shifting belief systems around what a leader is and does. The hypermasculine, tough-guy, charismatic persona that is seen as the ideal leader is a tragic misrepresentation of great leadership. While a strong, smart, and decisive mind is a necessity, so is empathy, compassion, and consideration of others.
A true leader in the year 2021
The first prerequisite? Identifying and promoting into the leadership ranks traits that exemplify character and integrity. We can start with Warren Buffett's recommendations of selflessness, generosity, and honesty. Here are five more to elevate your leadership and bring a brighter future for your employees and the world.
1. Care about your people.
"Care about your people more than the results, and they will do everything that they humanly can to make your business work," Jim Loehr, author of Leading with Character: 10 Minutes a Day to a Brilliant Legacy, advises leaders. In a recent episode of my podcast, Loehr shared, "Caring for others is an active process. ... A leader who understands leadership at its core loves their people because of what they do ... they give life to your business. Without them, you have nothing."
2. Value your employees' whole being.
I have found that leaders of the best organizations value the whole person -- their emotional, mental, physical, and even spiritual well-being -- to achieve outstanding business outcomes. The evidence overwhelmingly asserts that a more humane and human-centered approach to leadership will produce great results.
3. Lead with empathy.
An empathetic leader is important in keeping employees engaged. Empathetic leadership involves investing in the individual contributors on the team and listening and acting on employee needs. However, if managers are not trained to understand how to recognize and respond to these needs, it can negatively impact employee engagement.
4. Gain perspective.
Political divisiveness has seeped into the workplace as many employees are taking sides on current events, which may be affecting how they perform. As a leader in the C-suite, it may be hard to know the intimate details of the turmoil in the trenches. Rather than rain down fear and control over people, get perspective. Take a step back from your normal activities, listen to many voices, and seek understanding of both sides. Use your reflection time to describe what is going on in your workplace and how it is affecting the business. Then brainstorm how you can use openness, transparency, collaboration, and focus on the things that matter to bring people together and rise above the toxic division.
5. Be there to offer support and help.
It is up to leaders to help remove the roadblocks from employees' paths that keep them from running on all cylinders. Before putting the blame on low performers, take into account the insurmountable stress and anxiety employees have felt stemming from the pandemic, racism, social unrest, and our country's political future. A recent study found that 53 percent of American adults reported that their mental health had been negatively impacted by worry and stress related to Covid-19. Mental health will be serious business even as vaccines are rolled out post-pandemic. If you haven't done enough as a leader to address mental health for your company, it's time to step up and do something about it.