Seven years into being CEO, I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot. I’ve watched myself and others to see and learn what makes a good leader. And I’ve observed many headed down the path to various leadership roles who are seeking to learn and grow. There are many versions of leadership, and I think everyone has the potential to be a good leader in some way or other. Whether you’re running a country, a business, or a household, here is my hard-learned list.
1. Self-awareness. Being a healthy human requires a certain amount of work to become self-aware…and it is work. Through life experiences, study, and feedback, we discover who we are and uncover our potential. Gaining self-awareness is not about changing who we are, it’s about gaining a clear, objective picture of our personality and learning and acknowledging our weaknesses (which we all have) so we can work to improve them. The best way to become self-aware is to ask questions, invite honest feedback and independent perspectives, and see how they compare to your perception of yourself.
2. Generosity. There are things everyone wants from a leader—guidance, praise, time, empowerment, true listening, to name a few! The only way to give enough is to be generous. But that includes being generous with yourself, setting boundaries that give you time to restore and replenish your reserves so that you can keep on giving without overextending yourself and, as a result, reducing your efficacy as a leader. It’s a balance. But if you start with generosity, you plant the seeds of prosperity.
3. The discipline to show up. I can’t tell you how many times, as I’m walking into a strange room or a different place, I’m asking myself “Why did I agree to do this thing?” But then the magic happens! And great things begin: new connections, new energy, fresh ideas. If I didn’t show up, they wouldn’t have happened.
4. A sense of urgency. A good leader is kind of like a fireman. As a leader, if a building is burning, you “pack up” and go in. You don’t stand around and wait to see what everyone else is going to do. There might be people in that burning house. Or kittens. Not everything is urgent, but many things are, so it’s important to identify and prioritize them, delegate and act.
5. The courage to speak up. I realize sometimes it’s intimidating to say what you really think. But if you go back to your office (or home, etc…) and never say it? You’re setting the stage for a small issue to increase in size. Speaking up in a constructive fashion facilitates healthy communication habits and creates an open dialogue that will help bring forth new ideas and address problems faster.
6. Willingness to do the homework. If you come to a meeting, know your numbers, read the reading, know your business. And if you don’t know something, find it out. Ask questions. If something doesn’t seem right, figure out why. College is not the end of going to school; it’s the beginning! In real life, you have homework due every day. Do it. Unless it’s spring break or something. Then it’s probably best to take a break and hit reset (see quality #2). 🙂
7. Willingness to fight. Sometimes you’ve got to “grab your gloves and get in the game.” It’s important to be nice and kind and respectful, but at a certain level you have to fight for things—whether it’s a new business partnership, an idea, or a place at the table. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, a certain amount of firm, direct engagement is required to get to the leadership spot. Because remember, there will be lots of people who either don’t want you there or who think they should be there instead. Just remember this: Always take your stance with honor and integrity. And always be ethical. Then, no matter what happens, you’ve won.
8. Curiosity. Steve Jobs used to talk about the importance of this, and it’s true: People look to leaders for new ideas, big thinking, and major insights. Those come from being curious about the world and dabbling in all sorts of arenas—both within and outside of your business world.
9. Persistence. Sometimes the time is not yet right. Sometimes things just take a long, long time. If you really want to make something happen—especially something big—you need to be patient and persistent and relentless. Just look at the organic movement. My grandfather launched it in 1942. Today, I am still relentlessly pushing it forward. The progress has been amazing over the past…70 years! But there is still so much more to do. If we listened to every critic, the world would be a much different (and less healthy) place.
10. Thick skin. As Taylor Swift says, “Haters gonna hate.” It is virtually impossible to please every person, and the higher up you get, the more people are going to focus both their positive and negative energy right at you. Just think about a presidential election. No one is universally loved. No one. Sorry, not even the Pope. Not even Bruce Springsteen. So before you react and get defensive, consider the context, consider the critic, and respond (when necessary) with grace.