I don’t know about you, but inspiration occasionally hits me in those just-before-I’m-fully-awake moments in the morning.
That’s what happened recently. I have a growing list of blog topics I want to get to. But this one seemed so practical, and I hope, helpful, that it wouldn’t go away, even after the second cup of my beloved Italian coffee.
Much space has been devoted to unhealthy leaders. Pathologically bad leadership. So why not focus on the behaviors of healthy leaders? Now, let me distinguish where I’m going from the boatload of articles you can find online. I’m not going to remind you to pray and meditate. Or eat and sleep right. Not even exercise more often. We know those prescriptions.
I want to explore actual things True North leaders do. Routinely. Or at least, should be doing more often. These too may seem like, “Duh. I already knew that.” Agreed. But are you practicing them in ways that advance your organization, your mission or your calling?
So, what are those behaviors I believe healthy leaders do? Here are the Ten Things. I’ll unpack them below, but if you just want the list, start here:
· Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
· Care intently and authentically.
· ENCOURAGE and EMPOWER others.
· Show up.
· Confront with clarity and love.
· Talk about the Vision with clarity and passion.
· Own your mistakes.
· Find a mentor.
· Be a lifelong learner.
· Build Resilience.
1. Communicate. This may well be the healthiest thing a leader can do. When it’s done right, at least.
o Tell the truth — As fully and completely as possible. Of course there are times when, for any number of legitimate reasons, a leader can’t fully disclose information to the troops. But when that happens, explain that you can’t tell them everything — not yet, at least.
o And during the difficult times, be aware of others’ need for more — not less communication from you. You know what it’s like to work in a vacuum of information. Very little good results. In fact, this is the hotbed for idle speculation and wildly exaggerated gossip.
2. And what’s the motive for your communication? In fact, for all the items on this list? The True North leader cares intently and authentically for others emotionally, professionally and most of all, spiritually.
o First, focus your love and care on family, and then in priority, your work relationships.
o Don’t forget about a healthy dose of self-care as well. Be intentional about cultivating outside interests. Your well-being depends on finding BALANCE in every aspect of life.
3. ENCOURAGE and EMPOWER others. Isn’t that the obvious outworking of caring for your people? Shawn Achor, in his latest book, Big Potential, argues that the secret to personal success is not personal or individual achievement. No. Rather, he offers, “…almost every attribute of your potential — from intelligence to creativity to leadership to personality and engagement — is interconnected with others.” (Emphasis mine.)
o Be Better Together is Achor’s dominant theme. This common pursuit leads to productivity, happiness and gratitude.
4. Find a mentor. If we agree that we need each other, then pursuing the unique professional intimacy of a safe an nurturing environment, is wisdom. I wrote about this recently; might be worth a reminder.
o Likewise, in our interconnected world, be a mentor. It takes two. But find someone you believe is worth investing your time and interest in. You’ll both benefit.
o Finally on this topic, I urge True North leaders to, if you haven’t already, intentionally begin to develop mentorship programs in your organization — begin now to prepare the next generation of leaders.
5. Show up — authentic leaders don’t disappear. Not when things are going well and certainly not during crises. Absentee leaders aren’t leading. If you find yourself missing work and making excuses, dig deeply into areas that are troubling and that you’re avoiding. Why? Where can you find helpful solutions? And from whom?
6. Closely related to showing up is, owning your mistakes. The True North leader who encourages risk taking cannot lay blame on others when something doesn’t work. I once worked for a visionary entrepreneur who encouraged us all to try new things, and “whoever sees the snake first, stomp on its head,” to find better ways to do what we do. Yet when something failed — as it was bound to do in the new “wild, wild west” within which he encouraged us to work — his response was typically swift and punishing. Guess how long innovative risk-taking lasted?
o But how much healthier would it have been for that same leader to repair what broke? Rather than punish the risk taker (for all to see), help everyone learn from the failed results, encourage the heart of all to keep innovating and striving for excellence.
7. Inevitably, a boss must confront an employee. Myriad reasons exist why. But when this type of communication is warranted, the True North leader confronts with clarity and love. Clarity to insure the situation is addressed properly and fully. The ramifications are obvious. And the consequences are fair — not punitive. The person leaves the meeting understanding what should have occurred and why, but feels personally valued and professionally corrected.
o Healthy leaders don’t resort, in these situations, to passive aggressive behaviors. You know, people who express their negative feelings subtly through often negative actions rather than handling these feelings in a healthy manner. And healthy leaders don’t allow bitterness or hostility, intentional delays, obfuscations or increasingly cynical attitudes to go without confrontation. See how this one might have a tendency to circle back around if left unattended?
8. True North leaders love to talk about the Vision with clarity and passion. For some, this vision for the organization has divine inspiration origins. Consequently, healthy leaders exude confidence when keeping everyone focused on the goals they hope to achieve together.
o Live as an exemplar — walk what you talk. Vision-casting works best when the leader can not only enunciate a strong vision that rallies the team, but is the most visible walking, breathing advertisement for the company.
9. Be a lifelong learner. Everyone single one of the graduate students who endured my Leadership class over the years, heard this admonishment on the final day of class. Never imagine you know it all. Healthy leaders are constantly scanning the horizons of their discipline to discover what’s new. What’s trending. What’s working in ways better than we are.
o Constantly seek feedback.
o Take risks — and make it safe for others to as well.
10. Then finally, the future while bright, is also fraught with many opportunities for unexpected surprises and ambushes. The healthiest leaders are always focused on building resilience in themselves and in their organization. Or as St. Jude urges us, “Build up yourself in our Holy Faith.” (Jude 1:20) I strongly suggest you read the surrounding verses to understand the context. It becomes clearer when you read vss. 16–23.
Life was difficult for believers in the first century. And we also live in very trying times. Resilience, anchored in God’s Spirit, allows us to grow and even thrive when others around us fall. This list of 10 success “secrets” is hardly exhaustive. If it were, I could stop writing this blog.
But will you covenant with me that, by God’s grace and the power of His Spirit living inside us, we will join St. Paul pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus? (Philippians 3:14)