Friday, October 25, 2013

Leadership Character… More Caught Than Taught

One of the benefits of launching a new book is the number of conversations and questions the process stimulates. Today, regarding The Heart of Leadership, the question is: How can I help my team develop leadership character?

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From time to time, I feel a disclaimer is in order. Many of the questions I receive are complex and difficult – today’s question is a great example! This blog format limits my responses. However, please don’t misinterpret the brevity of my comments. Leadership is real work, and rarely are the answers as simple as we would like them to be (or as they may appear in 500 words).

How do you help others cultivate the heart of leadership? I’ll share three ideas to help you begin the journey…

1. Start with you. If you and I don’t walk the talk, we’ll have no credibility with those we attempt to influence.  We must show our team what a leader’s heart looks like in the real world. We must model for them the desired behaviors.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Gandhi’s home in Mumbai. On the wall was one of his most famous quotes:

Be the change you want to see in the world.

That’s great advice for leaders who wish to influence others. Leadership character really does start with you. Are you becoming a leader people want to follow?

2. Define leadership character. If you want to cultivate leadership character among your team, don’t make it a mystery. Tell people what it looks like to you. What is your working definition? You may know, mine is a deeply held belief that great leaders:

Hunger for wisdom

Expect the best

Accept Responsibility

Respond with courage

Think others first.

You can use my definition or make up your own. Either way, you’ll significantly increase your chances of success if people know exactly what it is you’re trying to cultivate.

3. Recognize leadership character in action. When you see it, say something – call it out. Michael Le Boeuf wrote a book years ago entitled The Greatest Management Principle in the World. I don’t know if it’s the greatest or not, but it’s a good one. He says:

What gets recognized and rewarded gets repeated.

If you want men and women on your team to demonstrate leadership character, authentic praise and recognition will have a positive influence on their behavior.

To develop leadership character is difficult but not impossible. It is a process that requires focused energy and time. Often, it will take months or years of investment to see the changes you desire.

Don’t be discouraged by this, the same can be said for becoming a master craftsman or an Olympic athlete. The joy should be in the journey – the becoming – not the moment of achievement. The same can be said for strengthening our leadership character.

If you show your team the way, be clear on the goal and recognize even the small victories along the way, your team will respond.

Enjoy the journey!

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