How do you define a great leader? Here’s my definition: great leaders bring out the best in others to accomplish more than they imagined.
Every leader I’ve admired possesses that quality. They inspired me to dig a little deeper, to cast aside my considerable doubts, and to do what I didn’t believe possible.
Leaders like that don’t need roles to define them or promote their cause. You’ll find them in every occupation and all walks of life. They are the sages, leading by something more powerful than position—their personal influence. We’re drawn to them because they make us better, more confident, people.
I want to be a leader like that, don’t you? I often find, however, that my own thinking gets in the way. It happened again this past week when I noticed that I harbored some critical thinking toward another leader I know. I found myself annoyed at what appeared to be highly inconsistent behavior; saying one thing, but doing another. We have a word for that, of course—hypocrisy—and, in my mind, he was awash with it.
That’s when it hit me. How does my own critical thinking about him serve my desire to bring out the best in him? Clearly, my natural reaction would be to withdraw from him. He can’t be trusted. But that reaction would be in conflict with my greater purpose, making me a hypocrite to my intended purpose.
So, I sat down and drafted four strategies for me to work on along with a checkpoint question for each. I intend to use these, particularly when I find myself resisting my higher purpose of bringing out the best in another. I invite you to comment on them and help me add to the list.
- Check my guns at the door. Bringing out the best in another in inconsistent with harboring ill will about them. If my primary concern is about self-protection, I’ll never consider how I might help another. That isn’t to say I shouldn’t exercise caution when others have demonstrated inconsistent or foolish behavior. But it does mean that I choose not to pile on judgement which only serves to further diminish them and create resistance to my greater purpose. Checkpoint question: Am I free of critical judgment toward them?
- Put on their boots. Rarely do any of us understand what challenges another is enduring. As Plato once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Great leaders understand that everyone has their limits and their loads. If I’m going to bring out the best in another, I need to likewise take the time to understand the constraints they are dealing with. Checkpoint question: Can I accurately describe the battles they are facing?
- Carry their pack. There’s a lot of talk about servant leadership, but serving another is inconvenient. Easing another’s burden adds to our own. Drawing out the best in another, however, is seldom done by slapping a cheap advice band-aid on their situation. Sometimes we need to help carry their load. Checkpoint question: Have I offered to help in some tangible way?
- Take a picture. Great leaders are visionary. They certainly have a vision for a cause, but also for the people they lead. They know that we all need to embrace a vision of our future self before we can rise above our self-imposed limitations. So they take a picture of our possible future and share it with us. They demonstrate confidence in us when we lack it in ourself. Checkpoint question: Have I inquired about their aspirations and helped them imagine success?
The 18th century writer, Goethe eloquently summed it up, “Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he already were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.”
What strategies would you add to this list?