Magnetic Leadership

June 2, 2017

For companies to thrive they need great leadership. So how do we define great leadership and what are the behavioral traits of a great leader?

In his best-selling book Good to Great, author Jim Collins wrote about what he called Level 5 Executive leaders who build enduring greatness through the paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. He describes these Level 5 leaders as both modest and willful, humble and fearless.

“Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well,” writes Collins. “At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.”

What the business world needs more than ever now are Level 5 leaders. It needs men and women who understand how to attract and grow talented employees. Their focus should be on people before products and profits. Customers and shareholders will be satisfied only when employees are fully engaged and optimally performing.

In Roberta Chinsky Matuson’s book The Magnetic Leader: How Irresistible Leaders Attract Employees, Customers, and Profits, she defines seven irresistible traits of magnetic leaders. These are authenticity, selflessness, strong communication, charisma, transparency, vision and resilience. Matuson also provides important questions to ask yourself in order to strengthen these traits.

Authenticity requires admitting you don’t know everything, being truthful and sharing your backstory. To increase your authenticity, ask yourself:

  • Do I bring my whole self to work or do I leave parts at home?
  • What have I done within the last week to build trust?
  • How often do I share my backstory with employees and prospective candidates?

Selflessness requires the humility to focus on another’s success. Strive to be more of a servant leader and ask yourself:

  • Are people following me because of what I can do for them or are they doing so because of what I can do to them?
  • Do I take more than I give?
  • What have I done today to put others before myself?

Strong Communication means focusing as much on the way you say something as you do with the words you choose. Consistent communication is directly connected to higher employee engagement. And strive to become a better listener. Ask yourself:

  • Am I fully present when people speak?
  • Is my communication clear or is it a bit cloudy?
  • How often have I reached out to team members in person, on the phone or via e-mail or Skype this week?

Charisma means as a leader you are able to influence and inspire others. It is often defined by those who exude confidence and express positivity. Ask yourself:

  • Do I genuinely like being around people?
  • Do I express my ideas in a way that exudes confidence or do I radiate self-doubt?
  • Do I expect people will do their personal best or do I believe most people will merely look to get by?

Transparency is linked to candor and this requires trusting others as the only way to build and sustain relationships. To increase your transparency, ask yourself:

  • How often do I filter what I tell people?
  • How frequently do I shield information from others for my own benefit?
  • Am I being transparent or a bit murky?

Vision is about seeing the bigger picture and then painting it for others to see. In order to assess where you are on vision, ask yourself:

  • Am I focused on everyday tasks or long-term outcomes?
  • How often do I take time out of my day or week to think about the future?
  • Who in the organization has potential that is not being realized and what can I do to help unleash that potential?

Resilience is about the ability to carry on in spite of a hopeless situation. It is about the grit that enables one to get back up after falling down. To further build this resilience, ask yourself:

  • Do I take responsibility for my failures or do I place the blame elsewhere?
  • Do I pick myself up quickly after a failure and move forward?
  • Do I play it safe to avoid failure or do I take risks so I can grow?

Often it is the questions that matter most. The best questions can help us to understand and grow. Asking and answering honestly to the questions above can help determine how you measure up in order to assess your own magnetic leadership.

In the conclusion of her book, Matuson describes management as a destination while leadership as a journey. She writes that “the way you choose to lead matters more than your intentions, and that every day is a new opportunity to lead in a way that is memorable for the right reasons.”

Great leadership embraces the notion of continuous learning and growth. To be a magnetic leader, seek to become more of who you are and embrace these seven traits.

Strong Leadership Requires More Humility & Less Hubris

October 10, 2013

As our congressional “leaders” fail to settle differences to negotiate a deal to keep the United States government open and resolve the debt ceiling crisis, I am troubled by our failed leadership in Washington.

This leadership is failing because the representatives of “we the people” are firmly grounded in their positions (or those they are beholden to) rather than doing what is right for our country. This leadership is made up of politicians focusing on ideology instead of the practical matters of governing. This leadership is weak because they demonstrate far too much hubris and too little humility.

Hubris is running rampant throughout our society: Witness the fact that we pay so much attention to celebrities’ ideas on government matters. Cable news programs present well-quaffed talking heads’ spouting their opinions as if they are facts. And we as a people willingly choose infotainment instead of intellectual discourse.

CNN recently brought back Crossfire not because there is actually any useful information being exchanged, but because people shouting at each other apparently encourages the right demographic to tune in and watch.

This hubris, especially in the modern definition of the term, is about overconfident pride and arrogance. It reminds me of how the United States education system is falling behind many other nations in every category other than confidence. Our students may not know the correct answer, but they sure take pride in themselves anyway.

Pride that blinds does not demonstrate strong leadership. In fact, it does the exact opposite.

What if instead of accepting this hubris we demanded our leaders to act with more humility? Though often presented as a weakness in our society, humility is being studied as an important trait that can enhance leadership effectiveness.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, called Level 5 leaders those who attained the top spot in the hierarchy of executive capabilities identified in their research. Collins described these top leaders as those who “build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.”

Recent research by J. Andrew Morris and Rob Nielsen suggest that humility is multi-dimensional and includes self-awareness, openness and perspective taking—emotionally intelligent traits proven vitally important to strong leadership.

Humility is one of those traits that are found in the greatest of leaders throughout history, though are not necessarily found in those who rise to fame in business or politics. That’s because to be humble doesn’t necessarily play well in the media. Being humble does not enable egotism and perhaps most pertinent today, it doesn’t create controversy.

Though hubris may attract more attention because it appeals to our basest interests and may serve to confirm our suspicions regarding inept and corrupt politicians, I believe this can’t continue. At some point Americans will stop blindly supporting those politicians and candidates who demonstrate such a lack of courage. We will no longer support those who pander to us voters while serving their more powerful financial backers. We will demand authenticity and integrity.

In the same way business leaders must prove their abilities through results, the same should be said for our political leaders. Arrogance and overconfident pride are not traits that get results and they are not traits to effectively run a company or a country.

The Humble Leader

February 9, 2013

Is it possible to be a strong leader, yet remain humble? I contend that strong leadership, in fact, requires humility.

When you think of humility your first inclination may be about being meek or timid. This should be revised because when it comes to leadership, humility is about maintaining pride in your achievements without the arrogance. It’s about having a quiet confidence without needing to be boastful.

In practice, humility in leadership is about listening well, admitting when you are wrong, and highlighting others’ strengths and accomplishments above your own. These are the core elements of being a humble leader.

When business leaders truly connect with employees, customers, shareholders or suppliers they are demonstrating their humanity. And that humanity is grounded in humility.

But you can’t fake humility because it requires authenticity. You are either interested in growing and developing or not, and other people can tell whether or not this is true. The more secure the leader, the more humble he or she can be.

Humility in leadership includes:

Listening Well
Listening well means being fully attentive with all your senses and not simply preparing to respond. The humble leader first seeks to understand what is spoken and also what is unspoken. This requires suspending the desire to solve a problem and instead to first fully understand what is being said.

A conversation where each person is able to be acknowledged and fully heard enables creative solutions to be uncovered. It enables the opportunity for reflection and deeper understanding.

Through better listening, the humble leader can also model this behavior for others to also begin doing. Learning can then take place on only in the immediate conversation but also trickle throughout the organization.

Admitting Mistakes
As a humble leader, you also recognizes your own shortcomings and weaknesses. You are able to acknowledge when you don’t know the answer and when you’ve made a mistake.

This is because acknowledging one’s mistakes is about being authentic. Making yourself vulnerable by showing that you are not perfect enables others to see you as more human, and this humanity translates directly into humility.

Humble leaders actively seek out the advice and talents of other people in order to grow. This receptivity to others’ input enables leaders to open their eyes to their own limitations as well as new opportunities that otherwise might go unnoticed.

When a leader is comfortable in admitting mistakes and seeking the counsel of others, he or she demonstrates this humility.

Promoting Others
Humble leaders never fail to promote those around them. This means regularly acknowledging the accomplishments of others privately as well as publicly.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins describes how great leaders look out the window when things go right and look in the mirror when things go wrong. This requires regularly giving credit rather than taking credit. It is also in direct contrast to the many egotistical leaders promoted in the media who command so much of our attention these days.

Legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant was once asked how he got people to win so many football games for him. He said that he always told his players: “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it.”

This self-confidence in highlighting others above and beyond oneself reveals strength of character and true humility in a leader.

Finally, humble leaders are life-long learners and not willing to rest on their laurels. They are constantly growing and demonstrate to those they lead that this need for growth, which involves making mistakes, as well as uncertainty and false starts are normal and expected in the organization. This learning attitude produces followers, which enables the entire organization to focus on growing and improving.

Humble leaders continually learn to listen well, acknowledge ignorance, own up to mistakes, and promote others. These traits demonstrate humility and that delivers great leadership.