Mark LeBlanc, who assists entrepreneurs in growing their business, recently told an audience that building a business can be viewed as a fir tree decorated for Christmas. He explained that the trunk of the tree represents the core activities, which lead to having a well decorated (profitable) tree. Without a healthy and solid trunk, the branches won’t exist. Without the branches, we cannot decorate our tree (business). He urged us to develop the habit of engaging in those core activities every day. He gave us a motto to hold onto by saying “What you do each day is more important than what you do occasionally.”
As I listened to LeBlanc, I was of two minds. One side was paying attention to what I needed to do in order to build my business. And because of my curiosity about all things leadership, the other part of my brain saw a connection between LeBlanc’s invaluable advice and being a good leader.
There are thousands of ‘experts’ on leadership who profess to know ‘the recipe’ that makes a great leader. Because leadership is more art than science, this phenomenon is understandable. Each leadership coach, trainer, or consultant selects the appropriate descriptors that explain how she or he interprets high quality leadership. All these views are correct because trying to explain the traits that lead to greatness is like attempting to explain what water tastes like, especially to someone who only drinks soda or fruit juice.
With many opportunities available to network, a funny conversation takes place at least once a week. After I introduce myself to someone and say, “I am a leadership coach who helps leaders be the best they can be,” I often get responses such as: “Whose leadership model do you follow?” or “Have you read John Maxwell’s stuff on leadership?” With questions like that, I am not sure how to respond without going into a long explanation of how each leadership guru comes up with their ‘model’ or definition based upon their personal experiences or research.
The Core of Leading Others
As I listened to LeBlanc remind us about the core of the business fir tree, I asked myself, “What is the trunk of the leadership tree for me?” In other words, I was curious to know which aspects of the High Road® Leader are the decorations, the branches, and which would make up the trunk or core that would still exist if the leadership tree was stripped bare.
I made a few notes and later shared my thoughts with a colleague, Lisa Copeland. She listened and then offered her suggestions on some core traits.
In the wee hours of the morning, my creative brain answered this question for me.
LEAD – The Core Traits of a High Road® Leader
Each letter of the word ‘lead’ morphed into a trait that I define as an essential core skill and ability for someone I would willingly follow. Each word also represents the sort of leader I strive to be in all aspects of my life.
L = Lifting
I believe that a good leader lifts everyone up to a higher plane than they were on before. This quality applies to an individual, a team, or an organization. This means they lift up peoples’ spirits. They select uplifting intentions. They communicate uplifting messages and visions.
The good leader seeks out the talents of each follower and gives them assignments that bring out those innate talents. Ergo, the people and organization are better off because of the work done through their leader and well as the engagement with him or her.
E = Encouraging
I believe that a good leader is like a cheerleader because taking people from point A to point Z is hard work and requires a disruption to the comfortable status quo. Before the journey starts, and all along the way, the leader uses all means necessary to help the followers see that the effort is worthy and the rewards of taking the trip will benefit everyone.
You can be the best leader, but if no one on your team wants to do the work, you will fail.
Being encouraging means that you remain positive in the face of setbacks or when looking at an insurmountable challenge. Being encouraging means you reach out to those who may be opposed to your journey and ask for their support. Since your team or company’s journey may impact them, you let them know too how they will be better off or how your work serves them.
A = Accepting and Acknowledging
I believe the good leader must always work with reality and truth. It is easy to ignore the bad news, dismiss the naysayer, shoot the messenger, ignore unprofessional behavior, and live in denial.
A leader best serves everyone when he or she acknowledges the reality of the situation and then does what is necessary to make it better. Accepting reality without finding fault, making excuses, or pointing the finger of blame is called being accountable. Constantly seeking out the truth and telling the truth shows that you are an honorable leader.
I believe a good leader acknowledges the work and contribution of his or her people. The good leader gives the team credit for successes and accepts the blame for any failures. As a leader, you can never give enough recognition to the people doing the work. The more acknowledgements you give them, the harder they will work for you.
D = Delivering
A good leader delivers on their promises and commitments. No one trusts the leader who overpromises and under delivers.
If you are the leader, people are looking to you to make things better, stir action, share the plan, and start them on a journey towards a better tomorrow. However, as you undertake the journey from point A to point Z, you cannot do all the work yourself, because if you do, you are not being a leader.
Delivering also means that you empower people to take charge and share the burdens of leadership. You enhance people’s skills so they can accept greater responsibilities. You address and correct inappropriate behaviors that go against the standards you establish and extol. You establish metrics to measure what is critical to the team or company’s success and then monitor those metrics to ensure the plan is being carried out.
A good leader delivers on unexpected opportunities and makes adjustments to the goals, targets, schedule, or budget when reality supersedes the original plan.
Less is More
If you are curious about leadership, like me, I am willing to bet that you see leadership traits missing from my core list of five that for me create a sturdy and healthy trunk of a leadership tree. I congratulate you! And I ask you to consider a question before stomping on mine. It is the same one I posed to myself as I thought about the cornucopia of traits of a ‘great leader.’ The list of traits of a great leader could easily top a thousand different descriptors, such as:
For each leadership trait that you believe is an essential core part of the trunk of your leadership tree, ask yourself: “Could a person be a perceived as a good leader and NOT be –
– a good communicator?”
– an expert?”
– warm and caring?”
– creative or inventive?”
“Yes,” is how I answered each of these questions. Why do I believe that? I turn to Tom Collins and his research published in Good to Great, to Tom Rath and Barry Conchie and their research published in Strengths Based Leadership, and to John Zenger and Joseph Folkman’s research reported in The Extraordinary Leader. Each of them concluded from their extensive research these principles:
No leader has all the traits that define a great leader.
A leader can have weaknesses and still be defined as a great leader.
As I examined my list of traits, I saw that many admirable traits are really the result of Lifting, Encouraging, Accepting, Acknowledging, and Delivering on a consistent basis. These included being ethical, having integrity, being accountable, being visionary, being trustworthy, and having courage. Therefore, to me, these leadership traits are the branches of the tree. The adornments (descriptors) of my High Road® Leader Tree include empowering others, solving problems, great communicator, etc.
If you obsess about leadership like me, I urge you to define those core traits that would make your leadership model work for a leader in any situation and for 98% of the people in a leadership role. Do your best to isolate these traits to no more than five. This will be a fun and challenging exercise.
Let me know what makes the trunk of your Leadership Tree strong and healthy.
I leave you with a restatement of Mark LeBlanc’s sage advice, “What you do each day as a leader is more important than what you do occasionally.”