Does every manager lead, inspire and motivate their team to new heights? Of course not, but some are remembered for years…even decades by members of their team. People have told me they have fond, warm memories when I ask them to tell me about the best leader they ever worked for. So instead of writing an article about the dynamics of leadership, I though it may be more useful to view leadership from the eyes of those that follow.
I wanted to know what people thought about the best leader they ever worked for. I had asked the question numerous times in leadership training classes, but the people attending were speaking out amongst peers so I wasn’t sure they were speaking from the heart. So I posed the question on LinkedIn, a business oriented social media site. In LinkedIn there are groups where you can post a discussion/question and members of that group are free to comment. I posted the question on two sales groups, a CFO group, two HR groups and a general executive group. 297 people responded, offering 495 words and 132 phrases.
The results were both confirming to some of what I have seen before, but at the same time I read words I had never hear in a classroom environment. Words like “servant” were offered more than once. I followed up with some people to ensure I understood their meaning as many comments came from around the world.
Visionary was the word most commonly mentioned 1st, and was the most common word offered overall. Integrity and inspiration came in tied for 2nd. I won’t bore you by listing all the words, but the longer I thought about them, the more clearly I saw what people thought differentiated this leader from all the others. When I began to bundle these words under 5 traits it became clear what people value most from leaders vs. everyday managers. The traits I identified were; technical competency, leadership competency, character, composure, and care for people.
Competency/Functional – I was surprised that this trait was not more highly valued. Comments from around the world with many submissions from the technology world still barely registered. The two most commonly offered words, knowledgeable and competent, only appeared 9 times out of 495 words.
Competency/Leadership – This trait had double the offering of the next most valued trait (of course leadership was part of the question). The most common submissions were visionary, inspirational, empowering and mentoring. Of interest to me was that when I sent an email to thank people for commenting in the discussion they offered more information about these traits but rarely mentioned the leader. I only note this because I found it very different from those who wrote back about character and care for people.
Character – This was the 2nd most commonly valued trait, and easily the most common word used was integrity. Honesty, humility and trusting were all mentioned often but integrity was offered more often then the other 3 combined. The tone of follow up discussions was interesting. This trait was definately highly valued but again, they spoke more about the trait than the person. My inference was that this trait was the entrance ticket, not the main attraction.
Care for people – This is the 3rd place trait but don’t dismiss this if you aspire to be someone’s best leader! The words most commonly offered were; Trustworthy, caring, supporting and compassionate. Now for the most interesting part…this is the trait that naturally evokes the most emotion. I got unsolicited emails from several respondents thanking me for posing a question that reminded them of a particular person. More than one told me how warm the memories were. This was inspirational to me because it seemed that even though this was the third place trait in my survey it may be the trait that many good leaders do not have, or at least do not display. Statistically this may be in third place, but those that experienced it absolutely loved it.
Composure – This is an interesting trait because people seem to appreciate behavior in a leader that is opposite to those that are following! In a time of dramatic change, they speak of being calm under pressure. When the environment is calm and sleepy, they appreciate passion over any overlooked principle. The top two words were passionate and listens.
This was a very interesting excercise for me and I hope enlightening for you. If you are inspired to become that one leader that someone will remember…maybe even decades after they worked for you then I would suggest you focus on the following.
Leadership competency – the most high valued trait. Driven by perceptions of vision, inspiration and empowerment.
Character – the second most valued trait. Warning! If anyone spots ANY lack of integrity then move on. Always do the right thing even when no one is watching.
Care for people – maybe 3rd place in people’s mind but 1st place in their heart. Perception will be driven by your trustworthiness, compassion and support.
Composure – 4th place BUT a lack of composure will always ruin all the hard work you put in the other traits. People appreciate calm under pressure and passion over principal.