Close Your Power Gaps, Communication, Leadership, Personal Growth, Professional Growth 7 Traits of Leaders Who Uplift Rather Than Diminish Written by: Kathy Caprino

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Today’s True Leadership”

In the leadership development work I do with mid- to high-level professionals, we begin by focusing on how to help each individual lead his or her own personal life in more positive and enlivening ways. You can’t lead anything well (including others, projects, growth, or organizational behavior) if you’re not honest, brave, emotionally self-aware and mentally healthy. After all, you’re a person when you show up to your professional life — your personal and professional behavior, fears, thoughts, wounds, biases, gaps and mindsets are inextricably linked. And when we experience what my research has revealed are the 7 most damaging power and confidence gaps (that negatively impact a staggering 98% of professional women and 90% of men today), our work and leadership suffer.

As a former corporate executive, then marriage and family therapist, and in 17 years of serving as a career and leadership coach, I’ve conducted a good deal of qualitative and quantitative research on what positive, inspiring leadership looks like (and what it is not).  Sadly, over the past several years, we’ve seen an increase in highly negative and destructive leadership behavior and communication (noticeable through social media, in our work environments, and beyond) that have palpable results. This type of behavior often leads to a significant proliferation of fear, hate, recrimination, divisiveness, blame and anxiety.

Research is showing there is an overall decline in mental health in the U.S., and from my vantage point, how we lead, communicate and relate interpersonally with one another directly impacts our mental health.

How do positive influencers and leaders make a meaningful difference to the people and endeavors they touch?

In working as a leadership and career coach and trainer with thousands of mid- to high-level professionals across 6 continents, I’ve seen firsthand that there are 7 critical traits of positive, life-affirming leaders who uplift and help their employees to grow and thrive, rather than demean and diminish individuals, teams and contributions. And you can begin cultivating these positive traits in your own life today.

These seven key traits are:

#1: They are clear about the challenges ahead, but they inspire faith, hope and collaboration, not fear.

As we all know, life today is increasingly complex and fraught with challenges, as is business. To succeed, we need a strong, cohesive vision for a better future, and we need the support of others. And we need a highly diverse pool of talent to bring new solutions forward.

Positive leaders don’t focus on challenges in negative ways, by dividing people or stoking fear, anxiety or conflict. They find within these challenges rays of light and seeds of growth to focus on. They offer us an enlivening vision of success through collaboration and innovation, and a hope for the future that most everyone can get behind.

And they encourage us to work together towards those visions, for the good of all, not just for our own individual advancement. Collaboration, openness, diversity and respect are key.

#2: Blame is not in their rhetoric – they never stoop to recrimination or demeaning, belittling messages and language.

Uplifting leaders don’t blame or attack others – ever. They take full responsibility for what they are shaping and creating, and the results of what they’re focused on, and remain accountable for what happens in their organizations and in their lives, no matter how challenging that is to do. They know that how they behave and speak will engender certain types of responses, and they don’t make the mistake of looking only to others for what has to shift and change.

For positive growth to occur, they are open to seeing and learning from their missteps and misdeeds. Blame and recrimination, and using biting, demeaning language that cuts down people and their efforts, runs counter to inspiring leadership.

#3: Their self-esteem and egos are strong enough to take constructive criticism, critique and feedback, and in fact, they welcome it.

Most of us can tell in one minute when we’re in the presence of someone who is deeply insecure, narcissistic, or has a fragile ego. How can we tell? First, it’s exhausting and anxiety-provoking to be around.

Those with fragile egos that need to be stroked need constant validation, and they get fiercely defensive when they are not agreed with. In addition, they don’t know how to build on other’s ideas without trying to take all the credit. They often won’t take accountability for any missteps or “failures,” and look for someone else to blame.

Positive, uplifting leaders are the opposite. Their emotional “well” is full – they don’t need continual validation of their worth and their “rightness.” When someone criticizes them, they don’t immediately go to the angry, vengeful place – they remain still, calm and open. And finally, they don’t covet all the attention and credit for great ideas and successful initiatives. They’re thrilled and appreciative that others in their sphere have contributed in important ways that supported growth and they applaud it.

#4: Their communication style is positive, with words that inspire greatness and growth in us.

The words that leaders (and all of us) choose to share are extremely revealing about their inner mindset and how they operate in the world.

As we know, words can be used as weapons or they can be tools for growth. Take the time today to read an inspiring speech of a great leader such as Martin Luther KingAbraham Lincoln or Eleanor Roosevelt, and you’ll find words that generate positive, motivating emotion, uplifting us with a compelling vision of a better, more positive, free world that we want to create. (For a look at what goes into making some of the most memorable speeches in history and how to improve your presentations, check out this helpful information from Nancy Duarte.)

#5: They don’t surround themselves only with people who “yes” them – they surround themselves with diversity, truth and openness.

Years ago in my corporate life, I met one “leader” who, wherever he was hired as a senior executive to turn around a company, he brought with him a posse of the same several men to support him. Sadly, this posse turned out to be a group of sycophants who, in return for being paid very well and getting treated with tremendous favors, they did this person’s bidding, never saying “no” or questioning him.

True leaders don’t only surround themselves with people who will never challenge them. They want to surround themselves with a diverse, talented and brave group of individuals who will share their unique perspectives, experiences, know-how and candid feedback.  And that diversity will inevitably lead to differing opinions and views – that’s the whole point. If all you want is to be “yessed” and agreed with, you can’t lead effectively.

#6: The success that they long for is success and opportunity for all – not just one faction, group, or organization.

Empowering leaders don’t speak about certain groups, organizations or people as “better” than others, or more deserving of success than others. They don’t talk about “winning” over others (focusing on “winning” is for the soccer field, not leadership). Leadership focuses on growth, contribution, strength, innovation, analysis of key trends and emerging needs, and bringing talented, committed people together to better address those needs.

Those types of competitive judgments (of “losers” and “winners”) and frameworks that pit people against each other, typically backfire in leadership: Instead of generating motivation, they give rise to division, negativity, fear and resentment. Why? Because most healthy. confident people don’t inherently strive to be “better” than others. They want to be successful, learning and growing, rewarded, and fulfilled in work that matters to them, within a community and culture they enjoy, achieving positive outcomes that help others thrive and rise right there beside them.

Inspiring leaders focus on sharing uplifting visions and exciting desired outcomes that will naturally energize and motivate everyone involved. The key goal is to grow and thrive, not to crush the heads and shoulders of others so we can ascend the ladder of success.

#7: They operate at all times with integrity, truthfulness and transparency, even when that’s excruciatingly difficult (and fear-inducing) to do so.

Finally, great leaders who build up rather than destroy demonstrate integrity and honesty at all times. They never fabricate, lie, distort, or exaggerate. They understand that, as leaders, they have the moral responsibility to speak truth (not just their own version of truth, but verifiable, measurable truth) with valid, supporting facts and trusted information from reliable sources that tell a true story, even when that story is very hard to accept and share.

In the end, enlivening leaders inspire great trust from us because we know that we can rely on them to be strong and honest in the face of adversity. And we’re confident that they will lead us to something better, from a place of clarity, integrity and forthrightness, not for their own gain, but for the good of all.

For more about building your leadership approach for greater success and positive impact, read Kathy’s book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss and tune into her podcast Finding Brave.

For hands-on help to grow your positive impact, join Kathy in a one-on-one coaching program, take her training course The Most Powerful You, and bring Kathy in to speak to your emerging leaders and managers, via her speaking programs and workshops.