Since we are in the waning days of the Trump administration and the Democrats may take the senate as well (we’ll see what happens in Georgia), I’ve been thinking about what sort of opening could exist if those two things come to pass. One thing that I hope for is a retiring of an old form of leadership. A form that Trump embodied, but that certainly didn’t begin with him.
I think that, for most of my life, I’ve been looking for a certain kind of leadership. I’ve found it many times, but never where I wanted to find it. I have wanted to find it in our government leaders, in the leaders of our businesses and organizations, in my community. Instead, in my experience, I’ve found it at random. I cherish the folks that embody what I’m about to describe, and I have found them in the most unexpected places.
So what am I looking for, in leadership, that I am so rarely finding? Wisdom and patience are the first things that come to mind. To speak metaphorically; to be able to guide the ship without over-steering. People who feel the extent to which their employees and customers rely on them, and do their best to honor that commitment at all times. I am looking for people who are honorable. It’s one thing to understand and appreciate that some people get things done by backstabbing people and leaving people out in the cold. It’s another thing to do it. I’m interested in leaders that understand that any business or organization is also a community, and who honors that community. It’s also important that a leader honors the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of other people. If you are a leader, reasonable and respectable people will come to conclusions that are different than yours. Reasonable, respectable people will also make mistakes. The type of leader I’m looking for will respect that and will respect them. I’m looking for grace. In a leader, I want someone who can give others grace. Who can distinguish what someone means to do, and who can lift people up and help them grow when they fall. If I’m an employee, I’m looking for a leader who will protect me. If I’m employing, I’m looking for a leader who will protect the people they work with. I’m looking for leaders who ask questions; of themselves, of their staff, of everyone. People who are curious, and who know to rely on the expertise of the people around them. To extend the boat metaphor, I’m looking for leaders who do just guide. Who don’t get hung up in the color of the lifeboats, or the fuel mixture ratios in the engine. Leaders I’m looking for have delegated those decisions to people that they’ve empowered to make the right decision. I also want a leader to have enough knowledge and wisdom to know when they are being buffaloed. A great leader who otherwise always takes bad advice will inevitably look on blithely as their happy ship full of people sinks to the bottom of the sea. Yet, every leader will take and act on bad advice. I’m looking for leaders that can recognize their mistakes, acknowledge them, apologize to any aggrieved parties, and then correct course quickly.
A leader must also, always, be cultivating other leaders. Why? Because all this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I know that when I’ve been most effective as a leader, a large part of that formula has been having advisors and mentors of my own. A leader must have and continue to cultivate; people in their lives who give them guidance, help them process their feelings when they are upset, and people who are unattached to their work who can give them unvarnished advice and perspective. A leader needs to be delegating to people nearly all the time. Those people that are being delegated to need to all be on the same page. One day, the leader will have to delegate the entire operation of the organization they are leading. I think it’s important to have people around who can step up to the task, and that doesn’t happen without cultivating leadership.
A leader must want to be held accountable, and must be able to hold others accountable. We all make mistakes, and we all have errors in judgement. We all have impulses occasionally that aren’t the best. A leader that can be held accountable will have their own worst impulses held in check, and a leader that can hold others accountable will do the same for the others around them. For all of us, being held accountable is an opportunity to grow. Accountability is a gift… give that gift.
This is the sort of leader that I have always attempted to be. I cannot say that I have embodied these principles all of the time, but I can say that I have aimed to. What I am hopeful for, that in this new opening we have in our country, is that leaders of this kind can get more space to operate. I am hopeful that we all can see what good can be done from leading this way.