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Vision, Passion, Integrity, Courage, Compassion: Keys to Effective Leadership

Leadership is a people skill. Think about your own lived experience, and those you consider to be great leaders. What made them so effective as leaders? It probably wasn't their ability to design innovative products, sell the most things, make the most money or accrue the most power. More likely, it was their deep respect for you and the rest of the team, and their ability to align and focus your excitement, energy and effort towards the achievement of great things, to the benefit of all. Great leaders are, at once, aspirational, inspirational and empathic. They excel at coaching, mentoring, and championing their people, not just getting things done. They actually care about the people, not just the goals, and certainly not their own glory at the expense of everything else. And, let's face it, you can't fake this. People know when they are dealing with someone who is only out for themselves, or who, conversely, is actually a leader. True leaders love to and are really good at making new leaders. And, by the way, get great things done.

Year after year, in study after study, the need for effective people leadership remains at or near the top of the priority list across industries, in organizations large and small. Leaders enable strategy planning and execution, create high performance and positive cultures that increase employee focus and engagement, product and service quality, the power of your brand, and bottom line success.

Whether you work in manufacturing, finance, academics, government, research, software development, not for profit, agriculture, athletics, or any other field, leadership skills are universal and fundamental.

If you talk with those who have gained your trust as true leaders, you will find that they have almost always been leaders of people, even as children. This isn't the same as bullies, demagogues and tyrants. The latter group actively recruits and coerces people to their cause, simply as a means to an end: their own power and wealth. True leaders start with a passion to bring something into reality. They study and hone this to laser focus, and place it before their eyes as a vision and goal. They will do it by themselves if they have to, but welcome those who have the same vision. The vision is a lighthouse, a beacon in the dark and through storms, and it is unfailing. It is irresistible.

This key difference between leaders and tyrants is unmistakable and immediately apparent: tyrants are arrogant. Leaders are humble. For a tyrant, it is all about themselves. Causes are commodities that get flushed and replaced like tissues if they fail. Leaders, on the other hand, see themselves as enablers of achieving the vision goal. And from this comes courage.

  • Leaders tell the truth. Tyrants tell their truth. As the saying goes, if you tell the truth, it becomes part of your past. If you lie, it becomes part of your future.

  • Leaders fight to protect their people. Tyrants require their people to fight for them.

  • Leaders emanate power that comes from their vision and clarity. They make the air to breathe. Tyrants suck power, like vampires, from their people. They eat up all the air in the room.

  • Leaders inspire. Tyrants are sycophants to those with power; fawning, flattering, and working hard to be seen as a member of that group.

  • Leaders delegate authority commensurate with accountability. Tyrants hold fast to their own "executive veto power".

Communication skills are common to both leaders and tyrants. For a leader, what matters is what they say. For a tyrant, it is even more important how and how often they say it. In his books on the Roman emperor Claudius, Robert Graves puts these words in the mouth of the emperor as he struggles through his stutter to make a point to the Senate: "Is not what a man says more important than how long he takes to say it?". For a tyrant, the key is to get everyone believing that their lies are truths. So they say them over and over and over, loudly and with every breath. And, in the short term anyway, this works on some.

Are you looking for leaders in your junior ranks? A bit of advice I have shared for years in my leadership development classes and with my teams might help. A leader is someone who is not afraid of being fired just for telling the truth. And if you do get fired for telling the truth, wipe off the soles of your shoes on the way out. Because those people do not value leaders.

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