In the past several months, I’ve immersed myself in the process of understanding more about what makes a truly great leader in the corporate world. I’ve also explored the current research and thinking about women’s leadership styles and approaches versus men’s, and I’ve compared what others are saying to my own experiences and research with women in corporate leadership positions. I’m also focusing my own work now on helping women grow their leadership capabilities and reach their highest potential as leaders.
It’s been a fascinating journey of learning which has led me to reframe some of my views about what it takes to be a positive leader who, through her own vision, efforts, and energy, can bring about deeply instrumental change in our world and our workforce.
From where I sit today, great leadership is comprised of these seven behavioral traits:
1) Embodies the way – She thinks, acts and behaves in ways that are congruent to what she holds to be true and valuable, in her company and in her world. She is a role model in every way for what she stands for and what she espouses.
2) Inspires a shared vision – She envisions what is possible for the future, and infuses tremendous positive spirit and energy into that vision, allowing everyone who interacts with her a window into what is possible through collaboration, cooperation and contribution.
3) Challenges content and process – She understands that adhering to the status quo and accepting things as they are is not the pathway to change and growth. She uncovers new (yet unthreatening) ways of thinking, being, and doing – and encourages others to do the same — in both “content” and “process. ” These new ways allow for greater expansion and success.
4) Empowers others – She invests time, energy and commitment in empowering and engaging others, building their self-reliance, independence and growth as individuals and as collaborators.
5) Integrates the whole – She understands that when people bring their whole selves to a task, and when unity can be achieved rather than compartmentalization, the outcome is much greater than the sum of the parts. She is an integrated individual herself, and fosters integration and wholeness in others and throughout the organization.
6) Supports inclusion over hierarchy – She operates under the belief that inclusion is preferred over exclusion, and centrality is preferred over hierarchy. She doesn’t long to sit alone at the top. Instead, she wants to be in the center (in other words, at the heart) of a large and effective web of inclusion that does what it sets out to do, with ease, clarity, grace, and focus (for more on the web of inclusion, see Sally Helgesen’s The Web of Inclusion and The Female Advantage)
7) Fosters the heart and spirit – Finally, she creates a supportive, healthy environment that allows all those involved to behave, think, and perform from a heart-based place, where they can feel and experience themselves as personally and professionally aligned. She shapes an organization in which there is a solid common ground between what the individual wants and what the company wants from the individual. Employees are able to engage their hearts and spirits in their work, rather than being diminished, penalized or alienated for being true to who they really are.
(For more in-depth coverage on several of these ideas, check out The Leadership Challenge, by Kouzes and Posner. The ideas above represent my female perspective on some of its teachings).
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In the end, the great visionary leader knows that the best and most effective organizations foster individuals’ natural talents, growth, strength, and self-reliance. They nurture employees’ ability to connect to who they truly are. Further, great leaders allow individuals to demonstrate at work what they know to be true of themselves, as well as give form to their life intentions in ways that are in service to the organization as well as the community and world at large.
In my lifetime, I’ve had the chance to serve under only a very small number of great leaders. But I know this to be true – when you do, it can be a life-changing experience.
So, what are your thoughts on the above leadership traits? Does your view of great corporate leadership match mine? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Which behavioral traits do you think are essential for an effective and compelling leader? And how do you think men and women are different as corporate leaders? Thanks for sharing!