What Makes a Truly Great Leader?

Have you ever noticed that some leaders just have it? You know it when you see it. You might call it judgment or instinct or intuition, you may say it’s the touch or the knack. Everything just seems so easy for them.

They just have a way of making things turn out okay for everybody in the group while achieving excellent results. Not that every idea or plan or product is a rousing success, but the leader and the team accept the outcome, learn from it, and move on to the next project with passion and enthusiasm.

It can be difficult to put your finger on it, and that’s okay, as long as you are able to see for yourself what happens when leaders know how to be with themselves and others.

If you look beyond the workplace, you find that the great leaders and their teams are fulfilled not only by their work but in their personal lives as well. They are passionately involved in their communities, and they experience deep joy and connection with their loved ones.

Business school scholars do case studies from time to time, trying to define what they think they observe to replicate greatness as a system. Then to the dismay of the scholars, it doesn’t work in another setting or with another leader. That’s because Greatness is a state of being, not a state of doing. Greatness cannot be acquired by study and initiating processes. Greatness is a gift of self-awareness, peace and love.

The Great Leader knows that leadership is bringing people to a personal awareness of themselves, their place in the organization and their purpose in this world. This awareness can come through training, through coaching, through modeling and through personal encouragement. Once that’s done, the truly great leader trusts that committed people working together in a community of effort will produce more than they could ever have imagined through a formal strategic planning processes.

In this Blog series we will uncover what it really takes to find Greatness in Leadership. We will look at coaching skills, personal attributes and techniques that will turn your leadership position into a state of greatness.

Let’s start with Deep, Active Listening.

The Great Leader Listens

And hears what is being said and what’s behind what is being said. The Great Leader catches it all and recognizes subtle, early symptoms, clues of potential problems.

The Great Leader understands and handles the sources of most symptoms and handles them verses handling the symptoms. For example, when someone on your team is procrastinating it is important to find out the source of the procrastination, rather than requiring a push towards action. When there is an underling problem like fear or overwhelm, then no matter how much action they push to do, eventually the symptom of procrastination with show up again and again.

One of the best steps toward finding greatness in leadership is learning when to speak and when to remain quiet. Listening for the truth of where your team members are will always be more fruitful then hoping and pretending that they are where you want them to be. When we know the truth about where they are we can meet them there and begin to pave the way for them to grow forward.

A good way to uncover the truth about where your team members are is to ask them how they are feeling about doing a certain task. Ask the question clearly and strongly then take your hand or your finger and put it gently over your lips. This serves as a reminder to yourself, not to speak, to listen. This tactile reminder works well over the phone and in person.

In person it gives your team member a subtle visual cue that you are expecting them to have an answer and that you are happily waiting to hear it.

It is important to keep your team member on task in the conversation. Don’t listen to whining or complaining. If they start down that path, gently interrupt them and say something like “I understand all that, I have heard all that before, but we both know that focusing on that does not move you forward, so where do we go from here?” Or “Yes, I know you have some challenges and I appreciate that, but what are the chances that you are actually going to do move forward if you are focused on your challenges?”

When you do speak, use straightforward, simple language. The objective is to be a clear communicator. Use the same voice and manner with everyone, whether they are other leaders, team members, or colleagues. Be relaxed, centered, grounded, and calm. If you can achieve this thoughtful way of communicating, your perspective and sense of balance will never be affected by the variations of your professional or personal world, by changes in people or organizations, by good news or bad.

When it comes to communicating the great leader doesn’t step over anything and communicates it all. The good, the bad and the ugly. The great leader has no inventory of un-communicated stuff with anyone up, down or laterally. There are no pink elephants in the corner that are being ignored.

Most importantly, the great leader never, ever gossips. With Anyone. There is no better way to undermine the effectiveness of a team then to talk about one member to another. There are times when the leader needs support with working with or handling their team members, and it is in those times that only an objective person, like a friend, family member, or coach who has no affiliation to the team at all can serve as support and help develop strategies for effective leadership.

Greatness in communication with listening as the keystone to being and amazing leader, is the foundation for great leadership. It may be challenging, but the results in respect, productivity and results on your team are well worth the effort.

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