This handsome superhero is my grandson, wearing an outfit I made him about 20 years ago. As soon as the cape rested on his shoulders, he transformed into the superhero—no doubts among any who saw him that he held superhero status. Like this tangible cape, some confuse an official title, corner office, or one-time achievement as an indication of leadership. Instead, authentic leaders earn and demonstrate a different leadership CAPE.
Leadership is not based on position on the org chart, time served, or words on the CV. Neither costume or rank tells us whether one is heroic, a leader, a self-promoter, or a poser. Instead, leaders emerge at varied levels of rank and experience. Earning the mantle of leadership is based on the development and demonstration of recognizable qualities that inspire others to associate with their ideas, actions, and articulated purpose. The following is non-exhaustive list of some of these emblematic virtues and behaviors that do contribute to the weaving the fabric of a figurative leadership CAPE.
A leader is:
C: Committed, Considerate, & Courageous
A: Authentic, Accountable, & Attentive
P: Purposeful, Passionate, & Proactive
E: Engaging, Exemplary, & Enthusiastic
Leaders are Committed: Leaders set their sights on causes or goals and persistently move forward without being side-lined or distracted. They demonstrate sustained determination in the face of challenges, disappointments, and blind alleys. They avoid temptation to pursue unrelated opportunistic possibilities.
Leaders are Considerate: Leaders care about others. They are unselfish, humble, and respectful of their team or tribe. They seek collaborative opportunities and involvement of others--not for the sake of having followers, but to optimize achievement of their cause. Leaders learn from others and grow other leaders. They are not threatened by the knowledge and expertise of others in their team or tribe.
Leaders are Courageous: Leaders demonstrate boldness in their actions. They take informed risks, make tough decisions, and set the direction into unfamiliar territory. While not always fearless, leaders work through concerns and anxieties to achieve outcomes that others would have believed impossible.
Leaders are Authentic: Leaders are self-aware and the “real deal”. They walk the walk daily, staying sincere and faithful to their cause. They can be counted on to be earnest, forthright, and consistent. They do not alter their persona for different audiences.
Leaders are Accountable: Leaders accept responsibility for their actions and are answerable to others. They admit errors, while sharing credit for achievements with the team. They readily share information over time. They don’t pretend to have all answers, all of the time. They know where the “buck stops”.
Leaders are Attentive: Leaders scan the environment in which they function. Thoughtful and mindful, they find time to reflect on what is happening around them, to identify indicators of change, and measure progress. Through periodic reality checks, they explore alternative ways to achieve their goals.
Leaders are Purposeful: The core leadership quality is a purposeful focus. Regardless of the term used (e.g. purpose, why, cause, North Star), this overarching purpose frames and filters all actions. Their other leadership qualities such as authenticity, commitment, attention, and accountability are informed and guided by their singular purpose. Leaders cannot achieve purposeful results while chasing multiple causes.
The hunter that chases two rabbits catches neither one. (Chinese Proverb)
All great leaders have charisma because all great leaders have clarity of WHY; and an undying belief in a purpose or cause bigger than themselves. (Simon Sinek)
Leaders are Passionate: Leaders are passionate about their cause and instill similar passion in others. They clearly articulate their cause, or purpose. They are positive about their work and that of the team as focused squarely on the cause.
Leaders are Proactive: Leaders do not wait for someone to move their cheese before acting. Their environmental attentiveness provides information used to forecast future possibilities and needs. Weighing the odds, they proactively plan strategically anticipated possibilities.
Leaders are Engaging: Leaders engage and involve persons at all levels within their tribe, or group, helping to build networks and connections between individuals and groups. They mentor others and learn from their own mentors. They share celebrations of milestones and motivate those around them to be focused, persistent, and committed.
Leaders are Exemplary: Leaders earn a commendable reputation through demonstrating the other qualities discussed and their expertise in their area of focus. With remarkable subject matter knowledge and skills, they don’t have to fly blind.
Leaders are Enthusiastic: Leaders inspire us through their ardent efforts and can-do attitude. As they throw themselves into their work and activities, their energy and enthusiasm is infectious to those around them. They recognize the importance of their cause and that members of their team or tribe want to contribute to something big. They’re not afraid to be rabble rousers.
Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Leaders emerge at all levels – everyone can become a leader. A leader in one instance may be a valuable team- member in another situation. Emergent leaders develop and demonstrate these skills at different paces. If you prefer, feel free to rearrange the list and refer to the PACE of leadership.
The point is to start out being centered by the cause or purpose to which our efforts are aimed. If you seek opportunities to gain leadership skills, start by identifying that central cause and then conduct a self-assessment of other qualities you should work on. ideally finding with a mentor who can help you set pace in your leadership development journey.