By Steve Leslie
During a recent discussion with a business friend of mine, we were discussing what makes a leader. We debated if it was confidence, ability to organize and mobilize, or thinking strategically?
After 25 years of working with executive and leadership development, I knew that those qualities were important, but I believe that there might be one that rises to the top: personal leadership.
Life can sometimes be like the movies, with an angel on one shoulder and the devil trying to sway you on the other shoulder. When you are a child, the voice of the angel or the devil guides you through right and wrong and helps you form your morals and character. As you grow up, those voices seem to begin to fade, but your principles continue to have a lasting impact. Those traits affect your ability to lead.
In a world that seems filled with questionable ethics and behaviors, following a higher moral code has a big impact. According to a 2015 study from HBR, CEOs who got a high character mark had a significantly average return on assets as compared to CEOs who ranked lower.
Business people who put more focus on human progress and improving their community or world tend to be more willing to speak on what is right and wrong. Moral leaders end up being highly effective and trusted, and they will enjoy a greater sense of personal well-being.
Employees aren’t as likely to follow passionate leaders who have a questionable character. The business system often fails if the leaders lack a strong ethical character. 83% of employees believe that the company would make better decisions if they follow that “Golden Rule,” meaning they treat others, the way they would want to be treated.
The leader’s core values and principles are always visible, in every action. As a leader, what guides your decisions and dictates whom you associate within the industry? When you’re a child, your character might have been tested when you were faced with pressure, but as you grow older, the decisions become tougher. You might have to face difficult ethical questions like what to do if your values don’t align with the organizational values.
Leading yourself can be incredibly challenging, especially when no one is watching or questioning all your decisions. It’s similar to how we create a different persona when we are online. The controversial things many people tweet or post on Facebook are a prime example of what we might do when no one we know in real life is watching. Having a higher moral code helps us online, and as leaders, we should hold ourselves to higher standards and continue to behave as if the world was watching.
We all need a strong personal compass
Personal leadership tends to present itself in the following ways: high standard of ethics, transparency, and compassion. Take Princess Diana for example, who was one of the most influential women and leaders before her untimely death. In the 1980s, AIDS, a terrible disease, was misunderstood by doctors and the general public alike, including how it could be transmitted. People who were affected by AIDS were often shunned by society for fear of catching the disease through casual contact. However, Princess Diana made headlines when she shook the hand of an AIDs patient. This simple display of compassion and personal leadership helped to change the misperception of this disease.
The question of where a leader is born or made has no easy answer because it is a bit of both. Some people are natural leaders have the confidence to make those difficult decisions, whereas other leaders are nurtured and continued to learn. No matter what type of leader you are, to be an effective one you must continuously learn and evolve. Being able to model personal growth is one of the core competencies of leadership.
In current times leaders have to be prepared for a turbulent and unforeseeable business climate, through their ability to adapt and evolve. Taking the time to move forward, reinvent yourself is more important today than ever before. What drove success in the past, often will not always drive it in the future.
Bring energy to everything.
Throughout my career as an executive coach in leadership sessions, I have come to recognize the importance of energy. Some people bring energy regardless of the situation. In workshops, meetings or helping a colleague. This display of personal energy and leadership, even when the stakes were not high, has a significant impact. It can help to uplift the performance of everyone around them, and encourage and motivate others to do better. Energy, passion, engagement makes everyone around you better, people notice, and they follow, no matter what position you hold.
While being a leader has many essential components, what it comes down to is character, integrity, learning, and passion. All are the foundation of taking that big step forward. So, if your looking for a strong leader, start by looking at yourself, remember when no one is watching, everything else will fall into place.