Conversation about leadership traits can be dangerous because it presumes that people possess inherent and immutable personality traits that make them leaders. I strongly disagree with that view because I believe that anyone can learn attitudes, skills and behaviors that make them a leader in their unique ways. In addition, nobody is a leader by themselves. The time for a lone hero leader is gone. Leaders emerge in team or group environments, and as such leadership can shift from person to person and even evolve into co-leadership. However, the popular magazines among leaders and leader-wannabes regularly publish lists about the three, five or seven traits that make a leader. Obviously, there continues to be a yearning to know what qualities one has to groom in order to become an effective leader.
As the conversation about women as leaders has exploded, the interest in what makes an effective female leader has also become popular. Often the results of studies in which a handful of successful women have been interviewed are reported in popular literature with generalizations about the leadership traits of women. Again, dangerous ground. Generalizations that are based on stereotypes are a way for us to categorize things we don’t understand. This kind of a meaning making mechanism simplifies matters and makes things seem black and white. The more we understand, the more shades of all kinds of colors we’ll find.
Now, having said all of the above, let me offer some thoughts about qualities that many successful leaders seem to share based on my observations as a leadership coach.
Women have been historically stereotyped not as human beings but as emotional beings. The feeling side of humanity was considered a liability rather than an asset. Now, however, it is widely recognized that authentic leaders have a passion for what they do, they connect at a feeling level to their employees and customers, they admit and express their vulnerabilities and thus gain credibility and respect. Men are just as emotional beings as women but have been forced to suppress that side of them. Now is an opportune time for them to learn from women how to embrace that part of them as leaders.
Successful business leaders – men and women – are always looking through the lens of opportunity. They are afraid of the risks involved but do not let the fear stop them because they believe in a compelling vision and the risks are a means to the vision. Learning through trial and error is a humbling everyday experience. A learner accepts the fact that they do not know. They have a curious mind, have courage to ask questions and observe keenly. Learning requires an optimistic attitude: “I don’t know but let’s find out!“ Maybe the fact that girls are more studious than boys at school keeps them learning throughout their careers instead of plateauing in ego-centric arrogance.
People want to follow leaders who are not only competent and have integrity but who can communicate the vision in inspiring ways. A powerful way to communicate the vision is to tell a story. When a story has “heart” it speaks to people’s hearts directly. “Having heart” means that it talks about a purpose, a bigger “why” the work is important. An inspiring purpose is not about making a profit. Rather than working to sell shoes online, people at Zappos strive at delighting their customers. Rather than selling computers, Apple keeps challenging the status quo, they believe in thinking differently. The purpose-based messaging is about shining light on the values and it moves those who share the values behind the purpose. When leaders share their heartfelt vision of purpose rather than operate for their individual gain they create a community that enables the leader to be the best they can be.
Article Author: Kristiina Hiukka is a Seattle-based professional leadership consultant, coach and trainer. She works with CEO’s who are ready to invest in women leaders in their companies. She specializes in up and coming CFO’s, CEO’s, and Management Teams. She believes in creating positivity driven performance cultures. She grooms leaders and facilitates teams at small companies as well as global organizations such as Microsoft, Nokia, and the American Red Cross. She founded Women in Innovation, a community and summit that convenes women leaders with Big Ideas. A native of Finland, Kristiina serves as Honorary Vice Consul of Finland for the State of Washington. Kristiina speaks on a variety of leadership topics connected to her passions: Leadership, Innovation, Collaboration, Communication, and Gender Intelligence kristiinahiukka.com. To get tips on Leading Smart and becoming the most effective leader in life and business Click Here
Be Smart About Your Leadership Intelligence – Kristiina Hiukka
Simon Sinek: http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action
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