All of us have experienced leadership at various levels throughout our life starting directly with our parents, our teachers, our bosses and indirectly with politicians, influencers and other public figures. If we define leadership as a way to influence the thoughts, feelings and actions of others, it gives rise to the question: What actually makes up a great leader?
In this article I would like to share Ten Powers of an Extraordinary Leader:
- Clarity & Transparency
- Certainty, Confidence & Gratitude
- Authenticity & Vulnerability
- Set Unreasonable Expectations
- Drive Actions
- Care, Coach, Trust & Give Space
- Strategic Innovation
I have a dream … A great leader needs the power to articulate a compelling future that others feel drawn towards.
What keeps us going even in very tough times is the belief that something better is out there and the first step to get there is to describe it in broad terms and then refine it until it becomes really compelling to ourselves and others. A powerful vision creates alignment across the organization. It calls forth people and organizations to become more of what they truly are. People follow other people because they like and share their vision and they are inspired and excited when they visualize how things will change for the better, once the vision becomes a reality (or close enough). The bigger the impact that a vision describes the more powerful it is. For a company the so-called mission statement then describes how the vision can be accomplished.
2. Clarity and Transparency
Who are we and why do we do what we do? Those 2 questions are some of the most profound ones we can ask ourselves.
For individuals as well as organizations, knowing their “WHY“ is the fuel that is needed to propel progress. Once you know your “WHY“, the “HOW“ actually becomes much easier as you discover resources that you previously did not see because you were focused on other things. Clarity is liberating. In his TED Talk Simon Sinek, British-American author and inspirational speaker, states that customers prefer to buy from companies that clearly articulate why they do what they do. On top of this transparency is also essential, as clarity cannot exist if there is a hidden agenda. So, does that mean you should always tell the truth? Yes – simply because the chances are pretty high that they will find out the truth anyway. Furthermore, your first lie is usually just the entrance into a fictious story that you need to sustain. On the other hand, it does not mean that you have to tell everybody about everything that’s going on. People will respect when you tell them that at a certain point in time you can’t talk about a particular topic. Clarity and transparency create a strong bond between a company and its customers or between a leader and his/her team. Team members need to understand the vision and mission of the company as well as the rationale of decisions that are being taken. You need them on board rowing rather than watching as a passenger.
Simon Sinek, Ted Talk: Start with why – how great leaders inspire action.
3. Certainty, Confidence and Gratitude
Extraordinary leaders are confident that they can turn the vision into reality and give people certainty even in very uncertain times.
This is not about lying to or misleading people. Certainty and confidence come from a belief that “We can make this better“ and “We’ll figure out a way“. A belief that even the worst times will eventually pass. You can also call that faith or the connectedness to your higher self. Many extraordinary leaders feel guided. This is a big part of what we call charisma. For most people certainty is amongst their top needs. Giving them certainty makes them feel save and let go of fears and eventually limiting beliefs (i.e., “I am not good enough”, “this will never work”, “nobody cares” …). Extraordinary leaders do not allow their fear to overcome their purpose.
You cannot feel grateful and fearful at the same time and there is always something that you can be grateful for. You could make it a regular part of your “evening routine” to think about what you felt grateful for today. Gratefulness is the perfect antidote against fear. You can even visualize what you are going to be grateful for in the future and thereby inviting this future to become your reality.
Being open and frank in a conversation makes our point clear and can help others to better understand what we are after. Don’t tolerate elephants in your room.
Oftentimes we shy away from being candid with others, specifically when we value the relationship with them. Candor exposes us to a certain degree and we are afraid of being criticized or even going into an unwanted debate. Instead, we communicate in a way that might make others feel good – for the moment. Ultimately, we watch things going down the tube because we missed the point to lay things on the table. As an extraordinary leader you do not have the right to withhold candor! People feel relief when the elephant in the room is being dealt with and pay respect to the person who allowed that to happen. Candor is also fundamental to how we give each other feedback. The corrective feedback can be “sandwiched” between two layers of praise in order to make it easier to consume as long as we stay specific and sincere. And yes, candor may lead to a debate or confrontation specifically when emotions come into play. I believe that great teams need to have a culture to debate. Conflict can set free enormous powers if practiced with respect and it eventually gets resolved. It is not about winning or losing but rather about creating the best solution. Unfortunately, many people have been raised now by over-protective parents with the belief that conflict is bad and needs to be avoided.
5. Authenticity and Vulnerability
People want to get to know their leader. Being open and vulnerable as a leader makes you human and people can connect to you.
Whether you like it or not, people can and will “read“ you. Authenticity is about acting in accordance with who you really are and interestingly enough other people will notice if that happens. It is when your mind and your heart are “on the same frequency” and the true you is allowed to show itself. People with low self-esteem may be reluctant to show their true self and maybe expose weaknesses. People with high self-esteem are usually more than happy to show themselves but since it is more about themselves than others it ruins the show. A finetuned level of self-esteem and self-awareness works best. Many leaders see vulnerability as a weakness and by hiding it at any cost refuse themselves the gift of bonding with others through empathy. The truth always sets us free.
6. Set Unreasonable Expectations
This can create unimaginable momentum as unreasonable expectations scare us and excite as at the same time.
All of us remember what J.F. Kennedy’s challenge in 1961 to conquer the moon before the end of the decade set free in terms of creativity, ambition and persistence. Extraordinary leaders have a feel for the right level of challenge too. This is not about becoming a dictator! Putting a stake into the ground is the first step. The management team needs to demonstrate that this challenge is an absolute priority for them and give it the necessary attention and resources. As a leader you need to track progress and if needed step in and even refine expectations. A close connection to your team is essential as well as open and frank communications. Make sure your people understand what is in it for them!
A negative example of setting unreasonable expectation is Volkswagen’s Diesel Gate where management dictated that the clean Diesel had to happen no matter what, while the technical team did not see a way to get it done. Management did not want to listen, so they faked it and caused the biggest disaster ever in the automotive industry.
Bottom line: setting unreasonable expectations is high risk and high rewards. Extraordinary leaders take accountability and support their team no matter what happens. They create a team culture based on trust and mutual support which allows everyone on the team to excel beyond expectations.
Of course, communication is everything. It shows people that we care, and they open up so we keep in contact with what is really going on.
You almost can’t over-communicate. This does not mean repeating the same old story all over again but providing different insights and updates for an important issue. This plays along with clarity and transparency. While verbal communication can be misleading and create confusion it makes sense to capture important statements in writing. Make sure you are in a peak state when communicating as your state can have a dramatic impact on how the message is being received by others. Even if the news might be unpleasant, isn’t it better they hear it from you than through a rumor that usually distorts the facts? Everyone in a team needs to clearly understand his/her role and responsibility. Effective Communication reduces the chances of conflicts and fights among team members.
Great communicators also acknowledged people’s contributions and celebrate their successes.
8. Drive Actions
Ultimately all plans, strategies and good will go to waste unless we put them into action – action that happens at every level of the organization.
Applied knowledge is power, not just knowledge by itself. Everything remains a theory until you try it out. It is about inspiring people to make stuff happen. It is about getting a mobilized commitment: “Yes I am all in and I will take action and contribute to the greater good!“. Getting a mobilized commitment is again about clarity and transparency. People need to understand why this needs to be done and what the final contribution will be. The purpose needs to be stronger than just to make their boss look good. They also need to know that it is ok to struggle and if they ask for help, they’ll get support. Extraordinary leaders find a way to engage everyone and not have 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Taking action is progress and progress creates fulfillment. This is also about challenging people and thereby giving them the opportunity to grow and shine. Every action needs to have an outcome, a purpose (why we need to do this), an owner(s) and a timeline that needs to be adhered to. There must be a clear understanding about focus and priority, otherwise people get overwhelmed and lost. There also need to be clear consequences when results are not being delivered on time or do not meet quality standards. Last, but not least acknowledge what people have done.
9. Care, Coach, Trust and Give Space
When you show your people that you care for them, support their growth and trust them, they will eventually work for you because they want to, not just because they have to. They will work for you because of what you have done for the organization and for them and ultimately because of who you are and what you represent.
John Maxwell: The 5 levels of leadership
The ultimate task of an extraordinary leader is to help create more extraordinary leaders. This is also a chance to multiply you influence in the organization. When people feel freedom and trust they will excel and show their gratitude for ever! It is time to put your ego aside and think about the contributions you can make to the individuals and the organization. People sense when you challenge them for their own good and not your personal interests. Coaching or mentoring is amongst the quickest ways for your employees to grow and move up in the organization and you become their natural role model. Afterall, if you want to get promoted you need to make sure that you have a successor(s) who can do your job. When you invest in the growth of your employees, they will pay you back with mobilized commitment and gratitude and word will spread across the organization. Sooner than later people will fight to become part of your team.
10. Strategic Innovation
Innovation is the force that keeps you in business for the long term. It is about anticipating changes in markets, technologies, regulatory requirements etc.
“We are successful, therefore we are doing the right thing“. I have heard that statement too often in my professional life and most of the time it was far away from the truth. People were just spoiled by their success. Technologies like digitization have redefined almost every market in today’s economy. It is about making innovation a habit, allowing to question what has been true so far and exploring technologies and services that might shape our future. It is about anticipating the future. That does not mean you have to be a pioneer and push yourself out there to the “bleeding edge”. Pioneers rarely can dominate a market long term. Instead, you need to understand the new development and enter the market at “the right point in time”. In some cases that might require you to even cannibalize your current offering but isn’t it better you do it instead of your competition. New technologies and services can also be acquired. The list of companies who failed to innovate and as a result had serious trouble or even went out of business is long (i.e., Blockbuster, Kodak, Sears, Borders, Toys R Us).
Thank you for your interest in this topic. Please let me know if this summary has provided value to you and any other comments or ideas you might have. Of course, this is my list and yours might be quite different. Which new power have you discovered? Are you eager to try it out? Which one(s) have I missed? Please feel free to share it in the comments.