Over the last few decades ‘leadership’ has become a buzzword, particularly used and defined in the corporate world. Yet with so many people trying to make their definition of it known and accepted, few actually live it and even fewer understand what it is.
I’ve worked at a number of companies where leadership was defined in a list of personal traits. At one organization, the list was so lengthy and detailed I thought, how’s anyone going to be inspired by this? It was all too overwhelming and didn’t get to the heart of leadership.
To be a great leader boils down to being a decent person.
What do I mean by decency? It’s when you establish for yourself a set of morals and values that you choose to uphold such as peace, human dignity and kindness. You make a conscious effort to live by these morals and values everyday — not just during the work week. You essentially want to do the work to become a better person — a truly decent person.
The reason many companies miss the mark on leadership is because they don’t realize that they’re not only in the business of making products or providing services, but they’re also in the business of influencing your values and morals that can literally change who you are. Effective Leadership Development thus means to cultivate your decency.
What does cultivating decency look like?
You learn to become self-aware. One of the most important habits that any leader, whether you’re seasoned or green, can practice is to step ‘outside yourself’ and evaluate your actions and words. This is not listening to the constant critical voice in your head. That’s just meaningless noise. It is observing yourself daily as if you were literally outside your body to witness both the good and not so good things you do in a given moment. It means honestly determining what your tendencies, personality traits and challenges are (ex. I tend to find fault in others, I’m often nervous and I lose my temper when I’m stressed).
Sounds exhausting? It is. But a truly self-aware leader is already half way down the path to greatness.
You learn to value the power of kindness in everything you do. Kindness is so easily dismissed as lovey dovey feely stuff — particularly by senior management in the corporate world. ‘That’s for mothers and saints! We have a business to run here!’, you may exclaim. Indeed you do and it’s the very reason why practicing kindness both inside and outside the office will set you apart and lead you to profitability.
When we choose kindness over coercion in our management style we build up people and relationships rather than put down and destroy them. Kindness also creates trust and a long-term smoothness to life that can weather any sort of downturn. When you have people who trust and respect you they will shock you by how much they’ll rise to the occasion and follow your leadership through all types of situations.
The real reason so few take kindness seriously is because it is one of the hardest parts to becoming a decent person and in turn a great leader. It takes tremendous grace, confidence and restraint to practice kindness with someone who has lied to you, taken credit for your work or sabotaged the success of your team. But in showing kindness to those who have wronged you, you actually lessen the chances of it happening again and you firmly establish yourself as a world class leader and an outstanding human being.
You learn to genuinely care about people. I’ve seen it too often, but a lot of so-called leaders put up a front to prove that they care about others by making a brief community service appearance, hosting lavish parties to benefit the less fortunate or through a myriad of other organized, often public displays of their generosity. Yet these are the very people that don’t think twice about belittling an employee in a meeting or ignoring a struggling team member’s request for help.
Leaders cultivating their decency learn that caring about others isn’t a scheduled event, it is the purpose of leadership and what makes being a leader so gratifying.
There are so many aspects of honing one’s leadership, yet at its core is the journey of becoming a decent person, an arduous task of which we’re all capable.