When Is It Okay to Be an Elegant Leader?

If you were to build a bridge, a model airplane or your new home, you’d begin with a blueprint. This blueprint proves useful in many ways. The obvious is the step by step directions, but more than it describes the finished product.

You might be asking yourself what does this have to do with leadership?

Last month I asked a group of local and former business leaders to tell me the characteristics of an ideal leader. Their answers were as follows:

A good listener, enthusiastic, passionate, shows appreciation, a visionary, role model, trusting, integrity, organized, knowledgeable, credible, persuasive, charisma, team builder, clarity of purpose, problem solver, attitude of service, leads by example, patient, willing to act without complete knowledge, understands followers, consistent, empowers other people, and adapts to change.

The Softer Side of Leadershipsofter leadership

Notice what the list contains. All of these characteristics relate to the win/win side of leadership then the ‘my way or the highway’ approach. That’s curious because I often hear people minimize this side of leadership with terms like “soft” or “touchy feely.” Actually, applying these characteristics requires more strength than not. By the time you become a senior leader, you’ve already mastered the technical skills.

The Nuance of Language Skills

What may be missing, however, are the nuances and the seemingly simple truths that get lost in the noise around how to run an organization. These are the softer skills, which may look simple, but are deceptively not.
There is nothing simple about empowering people so that the decisions they make and the actions they take are aligned with the overall values and strategy of the organization. It is not easy to remember the importance of rewarding your team continuously with praise and acknowledgement of milestones achieved, especially while you’re steering an organization to an endpoint over the horizon.
As I have found in my own career, and in discussions with global leaders, from well-respected CEOs and board members, new entrepreneurs and executives, leading is less about analytics and decisions, and much more about aligning, motivating, and empowering others to make those decisions. These truths are part of the Elegant Leader of today. Although strategic and practical, they are inspiring and motivational, as the entire organization becomes aligned behind a greater purpose and a grander mission that is bigger than any one individual.

To be a leader is to make others believe weather in challenging times or in calm water that “everything will be okay,” and that together the team will find a way forward. As a leader, you must have confidence in your own ability, but most important in your teams ability. Leadership is a humbling experience, knowing that it’s not about you, as the leader but about what others achieve.

Domination Not Required

Notice what the list excludes. Characteristics such as stern, mean, serious, short tempered, passive aggressive, vindictive, tough, angry, harsh, punitive, controlling, violent, or ruthless. This is telling because many popular representations of leadership emphasize at least one of these “hard” characteristics. I believe these characteristics are the old school philosophy of those who lack the ability or the skills or the willingness to even pay attention to the elegant leaders of today.

Too simply dismiss the men and women who are rising from the black hole of years of silence to now say it’s time for a change from how we run our businesses and this country.

Yup, I said it. The rise of female energy to balance out male energy is upon us. Too much of either one is not healthy or wise.

(FYI- Check out a great program I’ve created to help you see and understand the softer side of leadership in a whole new way- SATORI)

How about you?

How would you rate yourself as a leader compared to the list of progressive characteristics? If you were to survey the people who report to you, how would they describe your leadership? Would they list characteristics from the “soft” list or from the “hard” list? Could you become more effective by improving upon any of the “soft” characteristics? And how about the other leaders in your organization? Do they truly maximize human potential?

People want leaders who treat them with genuine compassion, courtesy, and respect. They want leaders who help them become more successful. They want leaders who inspire them with a vision for a better world and show them how to go there.

Experiential Piece!

I invite you to do a survey on yourself with a few trusted friends.

Ask them ‘what good and not so good qualities do I have as a leader?’ You might be pleasantly surprised by the feedback or have a little work to do. Either way, Knowledge is power.

Communicating from the Heart,

Sharon Kay



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