Leadership doesn’t mean being out in front

Illustration of confident handsome young businessman standing with arms folded with superhero shadow concept

The Hero Leader

The image of a leader is often an individual out front.  Leaders lead.  I agree with this.  What I do not agree with is the image of the superhero leader. I believe leadership is more about soft qualities such as courage, discipline, patience, perseverance, consensus building, listening, coaching and consistency; as opposed to “hero” qualities of decisiveness, being a visionary and having an unwavering resolve.  To be clear, I think the “hero” qualities are needed to be an effective leader, but without soft qualities the leader would charge off in a direction decisively, full of vision and resolve. The leader would most likely just be going for a walk by themselves.

Soft qualities are the day to day leadership actions. To start discussions, sometimes leaders need to go first to show it’s OK. Leaders need to start on tasks that no one wants to do.  They need to lead by facilitating consensus and uniting the team in a clear direction, as opposed to telling their people the definitive detailed direction. At times they need to ask for help and admit they do not have all the answers. They need to facilitate an environment of trust so their teams feel secure enough to put themselves out of their comfort zones, where their best work will happen.

Leaders need to exhibit these qualities consistently, day after day.  For the leader, that means checking their ego at the door, really listening to their team and encouraging team members privately and publicly.  They must let others lead, giving advice only when needed so it’s supportive, instead of critical, advice. Most of all, leaders need to genuinely care about their team.

The most important leadership skills are the ones that are rarely seen but are felt the deepest by individual members.  Leadership is more about doing the little things behind the scenes day after day, not just grand gestures. There will be times when all leaders give a rousing speech and set a bold direction.  But that should be the exception, not the norm.

Leaders lead, but often from the rear.

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