Traits of the Brilliant Leader

I want to share some concepts from Simon T. Bailey with you.  I had the wonderful pleasure of seeing him deliver a dynamic speech at the North Carolina State Human Resource Conference this past September.  He is one electric speaker.  He exudes energy and passion.  When he spoke of the traits of a brilliant leader, it resonated with me.

brilliant-leadership

I coach a lot of newly promoted leaders–most of the time, we call them managers.  Until they have the skills to be a leader.  It’s been said that almost anyone can manage.  It’s a unique skill set to know how to lead.  These traits are the attributes that both newly promoted managers and dyed-in-the-wool old school managers need to embrace to get the most out of their employees.  Managers push and poke.  Leaders inspire and engage.

 

Here are the 7 traits that Simon Bailey espoused:

 

  • Being Curious.  Bailey suggested that this trait is really an intellectual curiosity, or “the ability to see what is not yet.”  It is anticipating what might be coming.  This involves daily self-reflection and to be able to see: Where you have been, Why you are here, What you can do and Where are you going.  What about your direct reports?  Do you know where they are headed?  Have you taken the time to think about it? Trust me, they have.  This requires openness and  non-attachment.  Being curious is easier for me than some of the other traits.  My top strength from my Strength Finders assessment is “Lifelong learner.”  I am constantly on the lookout for more opportunities to learn and synthesize.  Be curious.  It will never take you down the wrong path.
  • Presence.  Bailey suggested that the mere presence of a cell phone or laptop at a meeting devalued the other folks at the meeting.  This was a huge wake-up call to me, even if my phone was face down.  He suggested that the mere presence of a device suggests that it was the priority–not the person or the people you were with.  I’m digesting this and trying to figure out how I can practically extract the presence of my phone while maintaining things like calendars and future meeting dates.  But you can see that if you are looking at your phone, you are basically not present for the person or people in front of you.  Presence means shutting down distractions and making the person in front of you the priority, whether it be a customer, employee or friend.  I’ve decided to leave my phone tucked away and out of visual presence, yet available if I need to schedule an upcoming event with the person or people I’m with. Prioritize being present.
  • Connect.  I remember teaching a leadership class some three years ago, and I suggested that every manager should know their direct report’s spouse/partner and children’s names.  Recently, I had a client who set out to learn three personal facts about their direct reports.  For many folks reading this, connecting comes easy.  For others, it feels like prying.  I can tell you that when someone asks me where I am traveling to next or when they say, “I saw you were in Asheville last week” (if they’re following me on Facebook), I am thrilled!  And I feel so acknowledged.  I can’t help but feel connected to that person. It makes a huge difference. Reach out and connect.
  • Consistent.  I can remember working for a boss who was a real hot head.  I never knew which side of hot head would be showing up that day or if the Rules of Engagement would be changing.  As David Rock has espoused, uncertainty puts your direct reports into a State of Fear: “an away state”.  Your direct reports cannot do their best work when they are in a state of fear.  Consistency in the rules and your temperament helps generate a “toward” or positive state.  They are much more engaged for the consistent leader because they feel confident that they know the rules of engagement.  Be consistent.
  • Relationships.  Bailey said, “Relationships are the currency of the future.”  I can remember my commencement speech back in 1983 by then Cornell President Frank Rhodes.  He said that the greatest thing that you are taking with you as you graduate are your friends.  This was very profound.  My relationships with my fellow Cornelians over the last 30 plus years has been one of the most gratifying aspects of my life.  They have been a source of advice, referrals and inspiration.  In addition, I have held onto countless other relationships from work and grad school that have enhanced my life as well.  Be sure to tend to the relationships in your life as they will prove invaluable.
  • Global thinker.  Think beyond your zip code, think beyond where you are.  I can say that since participating with a Mindfulness Coaching group, led by Satyam Chalmers, I have learned a more global perspective.  There were folks from Singapore, Australia and Ireland on the weekly calls.  As a born and bred American, I have and believe we can hold a very myopic view of the world.  The press does influence an American-centered viewpoint.  To be a great leader, we need to look for resources from all ends of the earth, be it products, services or thought processes.  Be global in your thoughts and share it.
  • Authentic Listener.  When I speak at various sites and venues, I frequently have said that the most important desire each of us has is the need to be heard.  Being present is an important part of this.  Regardless of whether your employee is in your office, cubical, gravel pit or service station, you need to pay attention and listen in order to understand.  This entails looking at their body language, the gaze of their eyes, the nuance of a smile or any other human indicator.  Be sure to respond with, “What I heard you say was… and did I get that right?”  It’s ok if you don’t get it right, because they know that you care when you ask for clarification.  Be an authentic listener.

 

You don’t need to have people be your direct reports for all of these traits to be useful.  Whether it’s interacting with your child, your spouse, a volunteer organizer or networker, all of these ideas can come into play.  Take the time to be brilliant–and you will be!

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