With a nominated field of 300 talented leaders in Kansas City, I was recently honored to be named one of 25 applicants to receive the NextGen Leadership award.
Honestly, it was the first award I have ever submitted for and I didn’t expect to win – at all. I was nominated and I pretty much wrote it off after I went to the nomination party and met just 100 of the other nominees personally. Some of them I knew and some of them I had heard of but most of them seemed more qualified than myself. Some I know had received leadership training and managed large teams at big companies, neither of which I have had the good fortune to experience. So then how did I win among a group of highly qualified leaders? I believe many of the most important attributes of a leader can’t be learned in a training session or a book and I compiled a list of what I think are the most important leadership qualities:
1. A leader is someone who isn’t afraid to change the narrative in an industry and champion that narrative
It takes courage to stand up and say something different, especially when it isn’t popular. THEN you have to convince people that you aren’t a crazy person. If you can find a weakness in a market – which there are infinite – and not just point it out but try and build a company it takes grit and dedication with a pinch of myopia. Remember, your brain doesn’t want you to say anything different than what others say, falling into the crowd is safe – albeit, a false security. A great leader grabs a flag, creates a new message and starts marching in a different direction. I believe being the flag bearer for your narrative is a keystone of a great leader.
2. A leader stands strong in the face of both criticism and skepticism
If you start becoming successful expect to be met with both criticism and skepticism – it is part of the reason you know you are on the right path. Criticism and skepticism comes with the territory when you are trying to do something great. Our brains release dopamine when we criticize things that are different – it views those things as disrupting the status quo and therefore a threat. Stand strong when you are met with criticism and as long as you provide a combination of emotional and logical support for your narrative you can turn your biggest skeptics into admirers.
3. A leader takes what they do seriously but doesn’t take themselves seriously
Most great leaders have a humble confidence about them that makes them magnetic to others. This humble confidence is created by having strong presence of self and knowing when it is time for fun and when it is time for business. These leaders are self-deprecating on the golf course but serious as a heart attack in the board room. This personality polarization can be natural but is mostly a learned behavior and can be healthy – it creates an internal equilibrium – and is a strong indicator of a great leader.
4. A leader gains perspective
Having perspective and gaining perspective are two different things. Having perspective is when you come into a company or market with fresh eyes and fresh ideas. Gaining perspective is an active process that involves removing yourself from the minutia of your business and looking at your message and operation from a customer or outsider’s perspective. This is a challenging and humbling exercise that involves eliminating best practices from your mind and looking at your message and business without assumptions about your customer.
5. A leader invests in their community especially when there is no obvious return on their time
We are only as successful as the community that surrounds us. Your time as a leader is a priority and volunteering in the community sucks that precious commodity away without a financial return. So many choose not to engage with their community. This is a mistake. Immersing yourself in your community provides perspective (see #4) on not only your personal life but your business. Some of your best ideas will come to you when you are out of your comfort zone and doing something that is completely selfless.
While there are many leadership qualities that are valuable, these are the 5 that I consistently see in great leaders. I also see that a natural byproduct of a great leader is that they tend to create other leaders – so in the spirit of this I have to ask you…What is the leadership narrative you are championing?