The Foundation of All Great Leaders

The Foundation of All Great Leaders

Leadership is a nebulous and often hard topic to define. Many people conflate leading and managing, which is ultimately about marshaling and directing human, physical, and intellectual property resources toward the achievement of a set of business objectives. Leadership on the other hand includes aspects of management, but also has an elevated set of responsibilities including creating vision, instilling purpose, and aligning a team behind a North Star as well as a focus on empowering, motivating, and inspiring individuals, teams, and groups to achieve a common goal.

While Gallup research finds that only 10% of people have the talent to manage, we firmly believe that leadership potential exists within each of us. Each of us leads in a different way and companies have an imperative to build leadership capabilities within all tentacles of the organizational structure to create awareness of marketplace changes, increase innovation, become more agile, and ultimately better defend against and leverage disruptive technologies.

Leadership entails the many facets detailed above and more, but underneath it all are 3 foundational elements needed for success.

1. Possess a Burning Desire to Be Great: At the core of any successful leader is a white-hot fire that burns in search of greatness. While the definition of “great” will vary based on whom you ask, the yearning for it exists in all great leaders. Ask the CEO of a fast growing technology start-up and they might say greatness is “Building a company whose technology changes the world,” though a more honest assessment might be centered on creating the next billion-dollar unicorn company. Ask an elite endurance athlete and their response would be around beating their best time or pushing past a limit they previously felt unbreakable. An elementary school teacher would likely talk about building future generations of community and civic-minded citizens who are prepared to succeed in the world. Greatness is personal to each one of us and we define it in a manner that aligns with our internal values and beliefs and reflects our past experiences. Defining greatness in our own way is key to finding the motivation to grow, change, and continue on the leadership journey.

2.  Willing to Look Inside You: Becoming a great leader also requires a willingness for each of us to look inside. A willingness to be vulnerable and objectively define personal values, assess strengths, unearth self-limiting beliefs, and explore potential blind spots that could limit growth. Without it, the adoption of new leadership behaviors will be short-term as behaviors and actions that are not anchored in who you are as a leader simply are not sustained. For example, better decision-making isn’t just about quickly assessing a series of incomplete variables to choose the best option. Rather, it often is tied to decisions that reflect personal values as well as those of a team and organization.  Behaviors rooted in our own “why” have more impact, are more authentic, and have the greatest potential for success and to be sustained over time.

3Committed to Putting in the Work: The third foundational element critical to leadership success is a commitment to putting in the time and effort needed to change and become great. Great leaders commit to life-long growth that will require them to be bold, take personal risks in search of new habits, fail and learn from mistakes, and take time to reflect on positive and negative developments to ensure continued growth. Commit to action by including a section on personal growth in your quarterly or annual goals. Set a goal to have 1 critical feedback session per week with a team member or to read one book per month about topics such as communicating with impact. Take it a step further and ask a peer or friend to hold you accountable to each of your new goals.

The need for leadership in companies and in our communities has never been greater. Leadership requires the 3 foundational elements above if we are to have enduring success as a leader in business and in life. Building the leaders of the future starts in the foundation, in that building leaders from the inside out is the key to impact and longevity. Doing so will go a long way to building future generations of leaders to drive the success of our organizations and society as a whole.

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 *Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash