What does it take to be a good leader? Do we find similar characteristics, actions and attitudes among people who are recognized as good leaders? A simple Google search on leadership generates more than 800 million results: articles, photos, videos, even “secret” leadership codes. There is no shortage of information. However, I do not believe there is a magic recipe, an “A to Z” approach to follow that ensures that by step “Z”, you will without a doubt be an excellent leader. It’s so much more than that. Being a good leader is more a constant state of «perpetually becoming». It means being a lifelong learner. It is making other people better because of our influence, and having a lasting impact well after we’ve moved on. I like to compare it to the principle behind Newton’s pendulum: I supply energy (influence) to the first ball, and this energy passes from one ball to the next. The movement (impact) continues even if I leave the room.
Throughout my career in education, I have had the pleasure of meeting and working closely with people I consider to be excellent colleagues, mentors, and leaders: students, parents, coaches, teachers, principals, superintendents, and education agents. My goal has always been to learn as much as possible from these individuals so that I can in turn sharpen my leadership skills. I want to experience the process of becoming a leader, to maximize the positive influence that others have on me. I seek to personalize my learning, to become a leader who is able to serve, offer and share.
I want to experience the process of becoming a leader, to maximize the positive influence that others have on me.
Over the years I have identified some common traits and actions that I have observed in people who I believe are exceptional leaders. A leader’s code if you will. Here is my version of it.
Character and integrity
People often think that having a strong character is inherent to a good leader. This is not always the case. When it comes to character, many factors come into play (emotions, reactions, strengths, weaknesses, experiences).
I believe a good leader demonstrates what I call integrity of character. Whatever the situation, a good leader does not lose sight of his identity, his beliefs, or his foundation. This person learns and solidifies his competencies, and is always looking to understand. As a leader, we seek to develop our character, to complement it, in order to become complementary for others.
Growth Mindset and Resilience
In December 2016, I wrote this post about growth mindset and our students. In particular, I wrote about how, by adopting and nurturing a growth mindset, we actually develop a toolbox, and that this toolbox is actually our resilience.
I believe a good leader explicitly recognizes the need to adopt a growth mindset. This person recognizes the value of error within the learning process, and the potential to learn when we make one. A good leader remains optimistic and sees these bumps in the road as opportunities to add more tools to the toolbox, to strengthen resilience. This person recognizes that in the face of challenges, our toolbox allows us to pick ourselves up, and to support others along the way. The following quote sums it up well:
In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek talks about the importance of having empathy as a leader. Putting yourself in other people’s shoes allows you to better serve others, both during the good times and the bad times. Having empathy can lead to reflection, to ask questions before acting: “how would I feel in their shoes?” A good leader is constantly observing where each team member is at – the verbal, the non-verbal – in order to be as proactive as possible and serve each individual as best as possible.
When it comes to leadership, we often hear the following statement: a good leader does not put his or her needs before the needs of the team. What I’ve noticed throughout the years, is that a good leader recognizes the importance of taking care of his or her own energy as well – both mental and physical. How well can we lead if we are running at 50%, 35%, or even at the brink of a burnout?
I believe every person learns each and every day. This is one of the gifts that life has to offer. I use Facebook to see what my family and friends have to share. I discover a spectacular science event on YouTube. I grow thanks to my PLN on Twitter. I pet a breed of dog that I did not know existed while taking a walk on a sunny Saturday afternoon. All of this learning going on without even having to think about it.
I’ve come to realize the importance and the impact of being aware of when I am learning without intention, and when I am learning with intention. Since then, I better understand what being a leader is about. I continuously set goals and consciously work towards them. I grow. It is as if a flame had lit up, and its energy feeds a passion to learn and become better. I am intentionally a lifelong learner.
I’ve come to realize the importance and the impact of being aware of when I am learning without intention, and when I am learning with intention.
The leaders who influenced me most are lifelong learners. Their passion for learning is palpable and is intrinsic. They are people who constantly work to improve themselves in order to better serve others. These leaders continually target goals, and are intentional in why, how, and when they learn.
Discipline and Vision
Whenever I stop exercising and then want to start up again, it most certainly takes discipline. Especially on those days when my motivation isn’t…well…very motivating. Having a healthy diet, training at least 4 times a week – not always easy after a long day of work, if we have company at the house, or even if we have to taxi our kids to their many, many activities (sports in our family). To me, a healthy diet and exercise are necessary for my well-being. I call this ”physical discipline”. Besides, the body is the temple of the spirit, is not it? We must therefore take good care of it.
Establishing personal and professional goals, taking action, measuring progress, adjusting / readjusting, being a lifelong learner, and having a growth mindset do not happen automatically. It takes a vision of what you want to become, where you see yourself in 1 year, in 3 years, or even in 5 years. We must be disciplined not only to stay on track with our goals, but also to realize that growth takes place one step at a time, as Mike Schmoker explains so well in this video. I call this ”intellectual discipline”.
A good leader is able to balance physical and intellectual disciplines, and understands the interdependence that exists between the two. He or she has a clear vision that is communicated by both words and actions. It is also the collective vision of the entity.
I need others to learn, to grow, and to improve. I cannot achieve my goals without the help of others. For example, in order to be the best father possible, I need the help and guidance of every member of my family: wife, son, daughter, mother, father, and sister. They are there to guide me, to provide feedback, to experience the ups and downs with me, to celebrate life together. With them, I know I can improve, and become a better person.
This works the same way in my profession. I need my colleagues to be my mentors, to inspire me, to help me innovate, to push me out of my comfort zone. My colleagues are my “outside looking in”. How would I evolve as a leader if I did not tap into this collective intelligence, this diversity of personalities, of styles, of views and opinions?
The best leaders I know have established great networks. These leaders surround themselves with excellent people, and are never afraid to challenge the status quo. They are connected (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other networks – both online and offline), and active. They are both consumer and producer. These leaders are continuously consulting with the people that surround them, giving value and encouraging each individual to contribute.
My leader’s code is constantly evolving. This is what motivates me every day, what I strive to achieve. This is who I am.
Please share your thoughts and leave your comments!