“What do you think are the most important qualities for leadership?”
I get that question a lot. I have my answer, drawn from my work with senior executives over many years, but most of us probably have our own as well, drawn from our own experiences. You also see plenty of lists posted on LinkedIn or business blogs, but I’m a little chary of lists that propose there is a set of attributes that applies to everyone in leadership. It’s more complex than that.
Or maybe simpler.
I got this question about my recipe for leadership last week meeting with a young executive, a person who you love to see succeed because of his drive, his talent, but mostly because of his zest for learning.
I turned the question around on him: “Well, can you tell me what leader has meant the most to you and why?”
He brightened up readily and told me of one such person — a senior executive who served as his mentor when he was a young intern. He used none of the words you often see on checklists for leadership skills – strategic planning, decision-making, intelligence, vision. If anything, he had a hard time pinning down what it was, but that “it” was as concrete, as resonant, as anything else he could describe in words. There was “just something about him” that conveyed a sense of value and trust. He recalled how this mentor executive—while having daily responsibility for running a global operation—always seemed to have all the time in the world to answer a question of this young intern. This young intern is probably on his way to being a CEO someday soon.
This “it” factor in leadership, in my view, is simply that human connection. It’s that synapse between two people that only comes when we strip down pretense, when we are in the moment, when we listen and sense, when we take the time to, well, leave that person feeling like we had all the time in the world for them.
Invariably, that’s what I hear every time I ask that question of someone. They may be at a loss for words to fully describe it, but you can hear in their stories the common thread.
We can lose that when we are too busy. When we think it’s only about the task. When we place a premium on efficiency over relationship. The ability to connect with people at a most basic, human level is the most powerful leverage point for anyone in leadership.
If we are willing to take the time.