Do you just have the title of leader or do you really lead? To really lead requires these three traits.
#1. The WILL to lead.
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg tells a fascinating story about Lisa, a recently divorced female forced to re-evaluate her life. Lisa’s self-assessment painted a less than satisfactory picture – 100 pounds overweight, a smoker, drinker, a job hopper, deeply in debt, and generally miserable.
As you can imagine, Lisa sank into a depression. To escape her misery, Lisa flew to Egypt – a self-prescribed treatment for her woes. While there she had an epiphany. She would come back to Egypt in a year and hike to the pyramids! But, in order to achieve that goal Lisa knew deep down some things had to change. The first was to quit smoking.
For Lisa, the decision to quit smoking touched off a series of changes that radiated into every aspect of her life. Not only did she quit smoking, but she did make it back to the pyramids, and over time, she quit drinking, got out of debt, went back to school, got engaged, lost over 60 pounds, and ran a marathon.
Lisa’s will transformed her behaviors.
So what does Lisa’s story have to do with you as a leader? Duhigg relates that Lisa’s decision to quit smoking identified her “keystone habit” – the habit that either dams up our river of potential or clears the way to let it flow. Lisa’s determination to quit smoking generated many positive behaviors downstream.
For leaders, the keystone habit is determining to lead. Leaders cannot act like a “great watch maker” that winds everything up and lets it run. Marvin Bower defines the apt leader as one who has “a will to manage.” The will to make tough decisions; to have crucial conversations; to take calculated risks; to seek innovation; to develop their people. Without will, a leader is just a title.
#2. The SKILL to lead.
Imagine you are Jeff Immelt for a moment. As CEO of General Electric, he has guided the company through:
– the aftermath of the dot.com bubble
– the 9/11 terrorist attacks
– the great Recession
– Dodd-Frank regulations to GE’s financial division
– political wrangling with the $17 billion Alstom deal with French government
– ongoing strategic shift from a finance heavy conglomerate to focus on industrial equipment
– activist investors who want short-term profits from GE rather than long-term stability
That takes a lot of skill, most of which he probably didn’t possess when he started at GE in 1982. But, he had a desire to develop them.
Years ago, John Maxwell defined 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. What Maxwell did was to point out skills that certain leaders exhibit at critical times in their careers. He termed them as “laws” but they really were learning opportunities. Odds are you’ll never need all 21 of those laws, but here is what is truly irrefutable – leaders can learn new skills.
Most everyone reading this is not operating at the bandwidth of Jeff Immelt. I get that. Like you, I have bandwidth envy when it comes to his leadership capacity. But, we can all share a common bond with Mr. Immelt and that is to commit to skill development.
How does one develop leadership skills?
First, become self-aware. Discovering strengths frees you to focus on homeruns while delegating the weaker part of your game to your team. Understanding who you are actually reveals blind spots where others can help you fill out a well-rounded approach to decisions.
Second, listen more than you talk. When the quantity of feedback increases, you can usually trust its quality. Feedback that comes from all areas – customers, employees, shareholders – provides critical check points that can be addressed with a strategic map.
Third, balance assertiveness with humility. Look, I work with leaders 24/7. I understand that there has to be some chutzpah to lead (see #1 above). But I also know that the really good ones are humble. Humility keeps them curious, always looking for improvement in self and company. And that helps them develop skills as they experience the world around them rather than just plowing through it.
#3. The THRILL to lead.
The first two attributes of good leaders (WILL + SKILL) flow from the third (THRILL).
Listen to Wired magazine’s Caitlan Roper describe her interview with John Lasseter:
“John Lasseter is tearing up. His eyes are shining and his lashes are moist. He reaches out a warm hand to cover mine and looks deep into my eyes as he talks. He’s feeling things, powerful things, and it’s impossible not to feel them too. From any other studio executive, this would come across as insincere, even manipulative, but Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar, is quite possibly the most earnest, emotional, enthusiastic man working in Hollywood. So check your cynical heart at the door of his toy-crammed office. His emotions—and his tears—are real.”
Now that’s passion! How many of us could describe our thrill to lead in such a manner? Here is another quote in the article that reveals the “WHY” Lasseter does what he does:
“Your connection with the audience is emotional. They can’t be told to feel a certain way. They have to discover it themselves.”
Having this thrill kept his will unwavering – even in the midst of difficult circumstances. Lasseter refused to shut down a sagging Disney Animation and instead poured his heart into it. It kept him developing new skills at Pixar, even after he was fired from his original dream job at Disney.
This thrill, this passion, runs out of the cup and spills over. It is driven by a desire to share a solution, a connection, or an improvement so others can benefit. It attracts others and engages them – like audiences, customers, and yes, even employees.
Define your “why” and you’ll discover your thrill as a leader.
Demonstrate all three of these traits and you are a leader. Demonstrate less and you are a leader in name only.