Leadership, Culture and Coaching | 10 tips to becoming a real leader
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10 tips to becoming a real leader

Ronald Heifetz draws on his training

10 tips to becoming a real leader

For the past decade, I have been fascinated with the topic of leadership.  My first real introduction to the subject was at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where I graduated (barely) with a Master in Public Administration in 2006.  As a student, I enrolled in Ronald Heifetz famous Leadership on the Line course (named after his very compelling book of the same title).

On the first day of class, Professor Heifetz casually walked in the stadium seating style classroom that fits about 200.  High ranking military officials, seasoned public servants, foreign diplomats and the very luck (yet occasional) grad student like me who somehow managed to get into the class, all listened with baited breath.  Professor Heifetz was, after all, the authority on leadership at Harvard.  And everyone who was lucky enough to get into his class knew it.

What would Professor Heifetz tell us about leadership? What were the golden truths that — once learned — would make some people leaders and others not?

As he approached the centre of the room, briefcase in hand and sports coat snugly fit, Professor Heifetz somehow managed to look every one of us in the eye. Once settled behind the main lectern, he said in a voice just louder than a whisper,

“So you want to learn about leadership?”

Of course, Professor Heifetz didn’t have to speak any louder than that.  He had us all salivating for every word.  His next immortal truths.

“Then figure it out yourselves,” he said quietly.  Then he turned and walked out the door he entered from but 5 minutes earlier.

Professor Heifetz didn’t return that day.  He didn’t return for a week if I remember correctly.  And in his absence, all 200 of us tried to figure out just how to be a leader for the other 199.

Professor Heifetz ended up teaching us all a very valuable lesson that day.  And throughout the remainder of the course my notions of leadership were shaken and redefined. 

From his teachings, my own experiences, and lots of reading on the topic, I have compiled a list of the 10 characteristics that I believe leaders posses

I would be delighted to know if these resonate with you.

  1. As Germain Porshe defines in her book, Coach Anyone About Anything, as well as Professor Heifetz came to teach us over the course of a semester, leaders have a vision about the future — a future state that they would like to see become reality.
  2. To make their future state possible, leaders recruit people.  They are not lone wolves.
  3. Because leaders enrol, solicit, and require the participation of others, they necessarily are self aware of both their strengths and their weaknesses.  And they seek talent in areas that fortify both.
  4. Leaders can possess authority but they do not have to.  A leader’s true power is in the power of her relationships.
  5. Because leaders know that depending on relationships with others is fundamental in achieving their vision, they are vulnerable to those they serve.  Being vulnerable to one another is the life blood of trusting relationships, and leaders know this at their core.  The stoic stereotype of the stern, powerful leader is just plain wrong.
  6. Leaders lead their lives with a set of deep core values.  Others see this authenticity and are attracted to it.
  7. Leaders realize that having a vision is not enough for others to join.  That vision has to be the vision of those that participate in achieving it.  As such, leaders are, in their most fundamental sense, simply a voice to a cause.
  8. And because they are but a voice, leaders strive to empower those working towards achieving the shared vision. Credit, for a leader, is a distant thought.  It is the shared vision that truly drives a leader.
  9. Leaders recognize that reaching their vision takes risk.  As such, they are comfortable being uncomfortable.
  10. And last but certainly not least, taken right from the notes of Professor Heifetz class itself, leaders are capable of doing two things at once: participating on the dance floor while simultaneously observing on the balcony.   It is this skill that enables a leader to stay clear about her vision, while orchestrating any movements necessary to get there.

What are your notions of a leader?  Did I capture them here or am I missing some other elements?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

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or write: Casey@SixandaHalfConsulting.com

Casey Miller

Casey A. Miller, President of 6 ½ Consulting, is on a mission: to help create environments where people value one another. In his consultancy, this means teaching business owners and executives how to build workplaces that inspire. In return, their organizations see positive returns on their time, teams, and profits.

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