Yes, that’s a adaptation of the popular maxim, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future,” but it’s something I have learned through personal experience and have come to wholeheartedly believe.
Over the years, I have made notes and observed the leaders around me, and I realized the importance of finding a few great leaders—mentors, if you will. I began emulating the behaviors I admired, and through practice learned how to put my own flavor on those behaviors while keeping true to the principle.
It was often difficult, and I even made mistakes doing things I said would never do as a leader! Yet, one of the characteristics I have seen in other great leaders, written down and emulated, is calling myself out (or being transparent) with those around me if and when I do make mistakes.
Needless to say I have filled my Little Book on Leadership over the last 15 years. There is lot I have learned—first and foremost that becoming a great leader takes work! And if I had to choose four qualities that deliver the greatest influence (and garner the greatest respect) as a leader, out of all I have learned, it would be these:
- Be willing to have hard conversations, yet be human about it. Difficult conversations are part of being in leadership. As a leader, don’t avoid having these conversations and when it’s with an employee, do your homework and always strive to end the conversation on a positive note.
If you break an employee down during the conversation, never end the meeting without first building them back up. If handled well, your employee will leave inspired and even more committed to the team and achieving their goals than before.
Here’s a great article on some rules to remember when preparing for and having those inevitable hard conversations.
- Tell stories. We all can remember a great story. If you can tell a good story that illustrates your point, your team will not only remember the story but also be inspired and motivated by it!
To tell a great story, start by having all your facts straight and know inside and out what you hope to accomplish.
Here’s an example of a great story that illustrates a point, by well-known author Jim Collins: It’s called the 20-mile march and describes a man with a goal of walking from coast to coast, from California to Maine. He discovers he is able to achieve his goal much quicker by marching 20 miles every day—rain or shine—rather than walking 40 to 50 miles on good days but making little or no progress on days of inclement weather or days of exhaustion.
Collins’ story illustrates the idea of businesses who are able to succeed and beat their rivals by achieving consistent performance markers over a long period of time. They do this by delivering high performance in difficult times and holding back to avoid overextension in good times.
For more on leading through difficult times, I highly recommend Collins’ article on “How to Manage through Chaos.”
- Ask questions. Don’t just solve problems for others, even if they ask for help and the answer seems evident. If you take the time to ask a few questions, the right questions, you will help them find the solution on their own.
Seriously, give it a shot—don’t allow yourself to tell someone what they should do the next time they come to you with a problem. Start by simply asking questions. Not only will you clarify the issue they are trying to solve, they will likely find the solution entirely on their own. After a few of these experiences, they will be more solution-oriented and more confident in their own decision making.
What are the right questions to ask? Well, that’s a good question. Here’s a great place to start.
- Be vulnerable. Share your similar experiences. Man, this was a big one for me. I had a boss who was always perfect, never wrong and just wanted me to do as I was told. Conversely, I’ve also had bosses who’ve make mistakes and were not afraid to share their experiences and lessons learned. Whom do you supposed I wanted to work harder for and was more inspired by?
Yep, this was a game changer for me. I could relate to the boss who took a chance on me and shared something personal. Yes, being vulnerable can be scary at times. Yet it often opens doors and creates opportunities for more authentic and accessible relationships with those who work under and for you.
If you’re looking for a great book on vulnerability and how it can transform relationships as well as how you lead, I highly recommend Daring Greatly by Brené Brown.
So, what was the secret to becoming a great leader, a leader worth following? Was it having a little book on leadership or emulating the behaviors of great leaders and learning how to make them your own? Yes and yes.
No matter your experience, your education, or even your personality you can become a great leader.
Your journey is just beginning. What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from the leaders in your life? What do you hope others will learn from you?