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5 ways to be a leader who gets it

3 min read


To some, being a leader is just a job. But to others, it’s a choice, a calling even, to inspire others to engage, perform, and achieve. The women and men who make this choice are skilled in a number of areas that bring out the best in everyone and everything. They’re leaders who get it.

Their secret sauce? They’ve chosen to:

1. Be well-mannered mavericks who know when to go with the flow and when to go against it. Leaders who get it have the insight and courage to buck the status quo when it’s gone awry and are willing to assume the personal risk involved in doing so. “Business courage is not so much a visionary leader’s inborn characteristic as a skill acquired through decision-making processes that improve with practice,” notes University of Southern California professor Kathleen Reardon.

2. Be kind. These folks have closed the book on the view of leaders as flinty heroes who unsmilingly save the day and double the bottom line. Leaders who get it bring some heart to their work. They treat people as ends, not means. They care for themselves, their teams, organizations, community, family, and whatever else they hold near and dear, and are secure enough to show that they care. Bill Taylor, a co-founder of Fast Company, advises businesses to encourage their people “to embrace technology, get great at business analytics, and otherwise ramp up the efficiency of everything they do. But just make sure all their efficiency doesn’t come at the expense of their humanity.”

3. Cultivate a noticing mindset. Many businesses, focused solely on financial metrics, foster a culture of conformity, practicing what social scientists call motivated blindness, a “systemic failure to notice unethical behavior in others when it’s not in our interest to do so.” Leaders who get it don’t sacrifice people and principles for profits. These individuals have character and a moral center. They never leave home without their integrity.

4. Shine a light on unconscious bias. While it’s easy to fall into the trap of demonizing those whose values differ from ours or extolling the virtues of those who think and act like we do, leaders who get it know it’s not that simple. They know that leadership is a complicated dance of managing conflicting yet complementary forces like task and relationship, collaboration and competition, or stability and innovation. A March 2012 Deloitte leadership report notes that “diversity of thinking is gaining prominence as a disruptive force to break through the status quo.”

5. Practice power with. The privileges of a powerful position can be a heady cocktail — one that seduces, corrupts, and creates fear of loss. Leaders who get it don’t hoard power. They’re self-aware, cultivate the strengths of others, drive the right business outcomes, and help others without expecting or demanding reciprocity. As management consultant Mary Parker Follett observes, “Genuine power can only be grown. It will slip from every arbitrary hand that grasps it.” Leaders who get it recognize that all work gets done by and through people, so they see their people as valuable resources.

Ready to be a leader who gets it?

Jane Perdue is a leadership futurist and founder of Braithwaite Innovation Group. She’s focused on disrupting stereotypes, the leadership status quo, and how we think about power. Perdue is @thehrgoddess on Twitter and blogs at LeadBIG.

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