What Defines a Good Leader?

Michael Jordan had a commercial where he spoke about how many shots he missed and games he lost. He continued to outline how many times he had failed and ended with a statement explaining that his failures are why he succeeds.  This message influenced the way I saw the world and felt about my own perceived “failures,” at times, helping me to see them as stepping stones. In my younger years I used this type of thinking to motivate my practice, drive and work ethic in schooling, sports and focus to achieve what I considered success.

For me, defining good leaders use to include an emphasis that if you wanted to do something worthwhile you needed to become one.  We grew up watching politicians, celebrities, talk shows, famous athletes, music artists, large business owners and other influential people speak to large audiences and seemingly put their stamp on society.  Were we influenced by them? Well … we listened …  Were they effective leaders and great role models for us?  This question can probably only be answered by yourself in reflecting on how their ideas shaped your viewpoint and influenced your actions.  One attribute that most of them had in common is charismatic leadership, whether real or perceived, which provided them the size of the platform they were speaking from.

At one point, I thought that a good leader is someone who has done great things or has special talents, which made them stand out from most people. This view made me feel pressured into becoming “one of the best.” It naturally brought on an attitude of comparison to others – get the best GPA, be one of the top performers, have the best answers in interviews and group discussions. Be better than others so that you can get noticed.  I was also taught – and believed – that this kind of performance was based on knowledge and experience. 

Not long after finishing a Bachelor of Commerce degree, I was hired as an associate manager. At that time, I was told that I possessed some natural leadership abilities.  After a year, I was promoted and faced my first real challenge in leading a group of individuals who were all much older and more experienced than I was.  I felt very inadequate, since I thought I lacked knowledge and experience – the two assets that I thought defined leadership. I believed in myself and my potential, but felt overwhelmed by the task at hand. I thought it was difficult and stressful – desiring to make good decisions, treat people fairly, and follow instructions, standards and protocol, but not always experiencing ideal results for the people that were a part of my team. 

Having confidence that somewhere within me was that “great” leader I started a quest to discover what this was and what I needed to do to unlock it.  I applied some of the reasoning that Mr. Jordan shared in his commercial and attempted to use my “failure” to drive my success. I furthered my education with an MBA in this quest and eventually worked towards a coaching certification always seeking to become a better leader. To develop my knowledge as the experience came.
Some of the greatest learning I took from these experiences is understanding that leadership is not necessarily doing it the way someone else did, or thinks you should. Leadership is not defined by being the best.  Leadership is much more and much less.  It is found within us; driven by who we are. Probably the greatest learning I’ve had is learning who I am. 

I suggest for you that this is likely the same.  The way that others interact with you, and you with them is different from anyone else.  You have strengths and a mixture of talents and personality that others do not.  These attributes and the attributes of those who you interact with create dynamics that are unique and require customized actions to optimize the relationships.  When you understand yourself, you can begin to open the door of understanding these dynamics and who you are as a leader.

I invite you to join me on this quest to learn about yourself. Here are a few suggestions to get started:

  1. Ask five people, who know you well, to share with you three of your prominent strengths. Take notes and express gratitude. 
  2. Pay attention to what you receive as compliments and record them over the next couple of weeks. (identify the talents, skills or the attributes behind the compliment).

Leadership is much more than just a persona or a form of influence defined by age or past accomplishments. It is more than the knowledge and experience that you possess. Leadership is unique to the individual.  Your leadership will draw upon who you are. As you discover yourself and continue to grow as a person, I believe that you will not only extend your influence, but experience greater fulfillment and happiness.

This is the first in a series of posts about developing your brand of leadership. I hope you have found this post useful. If you did, please subscribe to my blog to receive notifications of new posts.  Thank you for joining me on this journey!

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