How unfortunate that our popular ideas of what a good leader should be are so often grandiose. Through current media, television and movies, we expect perfection; a leader is strong, fearless and flawless. If we believe that myth, they should be superheroes, royalty and saviors all rolled into one.
So we become disappointed when our leaders reveal themselves only human. Could it be that we expect too much? If you consider some recent examples of leaders who’ve fallen from grace, you might find that they made very human mistakes, the kind we all make. That isn’t an excuse for bad behaviors; it’s simply a reality that nobody is perfect.
In the end, the best leaders are very human. Like most of us, they don’t see themselves in some grandiose, bigger-than-life way. They know that it’s the little things that will make a difference in their leadership, and they work on getting better at them every day.
The little things might, at first glance, seem simple, but they aren’t easy. A few that come to mind:
Putting others first. Servant leadership — serving others — isn’t a new idea, but it is something whose time has come and the best leaders strive for. When tough decisions need to be made, the best leaders always consider the impact on others before thinking of themselves. When temptation calls, good leaders, like good human beings, call on their internal strengths and ask themselves what the impact of following their whims might be on others, and then they decide their impulse isn’t worth it.
Saying “thank you.” “Thank you” is a small phrase but can mean a lot when said with sincerity. Surprisingly, it’s a big motivator for people, too, as it acknowledges a job well done, implicitly asking the recipient to continue on course. There can never be enough heartfelt thank you’s in our organizations, and the best leaders know that, striving to make sure it’s part of their everyday conversations.
Appreciating people. It’s all too easy to get caught up in what someone is doing wrong, or what they could do more of. The best leaders are always aware of what people do well, are present to what they are capable of and see the potential to do more in the future.
Taking the high road. When silly disagreements arise or when gossip abounds, the best leaders take the high road. Although they may be displeased with a particular stance their organization is taking on something, they don’t complain or broadcast their displeasure. Instead, they quietly find a way to deal with it.
Being kind. People have all kinds of things going on in their lives. They have bad things happen, and there is emotional pain that can play itself out in ways that aren’t pretty. Truly strong leaders find a way to be kind even when others aren’t. They don’t fall into the trap of treating others poorly because they are experiencing poor treatment; they know a kind word is their best defense.
Staying calm. Our organizations are pressure cookers of stress. The best leaders stay calm despite what’s going on around them. When it becomes easy to yell, scream or demand, they can put the stressful situation into perspective and see that going ballistic isn’t worth it. They know they are models of the kind of demeanor they want to see in their organizations. They model a calm demeanor for all to follow.
Listening. Listening is a small thing with big impact. When leaders put down the cellphone, turns to whom they’re speaking and looks them in the eyes without distraction, they’ve created a powerful connection that’s all too rare in our fast-paced world. These powerful connections are what make leadership possible.
Brave, courageous, bigger-than-life leaders are fascinating. But it’s the small, everyday acts that make a leader great.