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Leadership: Hard, Not Complicated

April 11, 2014

Happy Friday, dear readers! I hope that your week has gone well and you are looking forward to a lovely weekend. It has been another busy week here on campus and I’m looking forward to some relaxation this weekend. Weather is supposed to be lovely and I really want to do some more hiking and birding this weekend. But first, to the topic of today, I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently and wanted to write about it briefly today. I think being a good leader at any level is hard, but not complicated. Let me explain.

I know there are countless books on leadership and becoming a leader and leading from the middle, etc., etc. I don’t really want to get into all of that today. I just want to talk about what I’ve found from listening and learning as I’ve been working since I was a teen. All the people I’ve considered leaders, wherever they’ve been in the formal hierarchy, have had the same qualities: empathy, true listening, great communication, clear vision, professionalism, and the ability to get things done. These are the qualities and skills that I try to embody and keep in mind as I continue to work as a professional and want to just talk about a bit today.

There is no secret to great leadership. It is hard work, but it isn’t complicated. Basically, try to be compassionate and just and you are halfway there. Why would I say that? Because everything, except specialized knowledge of your field, are attributes you should try to hone in yourself to be a better human and better person for yourself and for those whom you interact with.

The saying may be trite, but it is true that “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Empathize with people, truly be empathetic. See the world from another’s point of view, be down there in the muck and help out, figure out what people care about and show that you care about them and amazing things can be accomplished. Not complicated, but hard. Check out Brene Brown’s video on empathy if you want to show someone how important empathy is to not just work, but to life.

Empathy requires true listening. To listen truly you must actively engage with that person, ask questions, figure out what they are trying to convey to you and to really understand where they are coming from. It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter to a leader if your views are radically different, truly listening requires an openness that is infectious and an experience of empathy. You have to truly listen to find the good and the bad, what motivates and what is soul-sucking for the people in your life and in your work. Listening allows leaders to figure out what they should be doing and what they can be doing. Amazing things happen when we listen to each other.

If I could say nothing else about leadership, I would say the the best leaders I’ve known are amazing communicators. I think I could leave it at that because true communication requires empathy and listening and professionalism and vision and the ability to get things done. You know how people say there are two ways of saying anything? The first way that will offend everyone and get nothing done and the second way that will get things done? It is totally true and anyone who wants to be a leader needs to be able to communicate well. And communication is more than words on a page or your voice in a meeting. Communication is about body language and how you arrange your physical space. What are you trying to convey as a leader? What do you want to accomplish? If it is anything at all, you better be able to communicate.

Leaders obviously need to have a clear vision that can inspire others and help lead everyone to a goal or set of goals. If you don’t have a vision, how can you lead? But also, the vision needs to not be written in stone, but be malleable based on changes in environment, in the larger organization, etc. Perhaps more than vision, leaders need to have courage of conviction in order to lead and inspire others.

All leaders should be professionals. I don’t care what a genius you are or if you are a rock star, nothing gives another person the right to belittle, demean, or shame another human being. Leaders should always be professionals and insist that others in the organization be professionals as well. Professionalism, to me, is a requirement for leadership. If you aren’t professional in your interactions (which doesn’t mean you don’t have a sense of humor, leaders should have a sense of humor to be effective), I don’t see how you can possibly lead. No one wants to be led by a bully.

Finally, I believe leaders should have the ability to get things done. You need to be effective in your position in order to continue to be a leader. Doesn’t have to be huge leaps forward, but small wins which are shared and communicated. You can get things done if you are a decent human being and hopefully as a leader, too.

So leadership, to me, isn’t complicated. It can be hard and it is a lot of work. But it is necessary work and good work and honest work. We can all be leaders. Remember as Yves Morieux said at TED work is complex, but we don’t have to make it complicated.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend, dear readers. I’ll be back soon with more news and notes. Allons-y!

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