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Why and how leaders are different

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Mark Miller is vice president of organizational effectiveness for Chick-fil-A and the author of “The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow” (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, October 2013). In this post, he discusses the motivations behind this book and five signature leadership traits.

The core idea behind my new book, “The Heart of Leadership,” is simple: Leaders are different. This was actually the book’s working title for many months. The subtitle contains the good news: Becoming a leader people want to follow. The implication for all of us is we can become that type of leader — the leader people want to follow. The key is to identify the points of difference and begin to cultivate those attributes in our daily leadership.

As we approached the day to finalize the manuscript, the publisher decided we needed to do some research around the title. You guessed it — after surveying hundreds of men and women, it was decided “The Heart of Leadership” was a better title. However, the big idea didn’t change at all. Leaders are different and the difference is their HEART. It affects everything we do as leaders.

In my first book, “The Secret,” which I had the privilege to co-author with Ken Blanchard, we talked about leadership using the metaphor of an iceberg. That book was devoted to the 10% above the waterline — the skills of leadership. This book is all about the 90% below the waterline — our leadership character. It is the heart of the issue.

Leaders aren’t necessarily smarter, older, taller or wiser than nonleaders. What is different is the lens through which she or he sees the world. In “The Heart of Leadership,” I outline five leadership character traits that ultimately determine a leader’s success.

Let me quickly add, the 10% above the waterline — the skills, are essential. No one wants to follow a leader who can’t lead. The good news for all of us who aspire to leadership — it is rarely lack of skills that knock us off course — skills are too easy to learn. When we get stuck as a leader, it is most often an issue of the heart.

Here’s a quick summary of the five leadership character traits that set leaders apart:

Hunger for wisdom: Leaders are learners; no surprise here. There is a humility found in this trait. Leaders know they must keep learning and growing. Have you committed to a lifestyle of lifelong learning? What is your plan?

Expect the best: Leaders always begins with a picture of the future – a preferred future. If you can’t expect the best, and articulate a better tomorrow, why would anyone want to follow you? Is the glass half-full or half-empty? It’s always full — half-air and half-water.

Accept responsibility: The best leaders don’t blame others. He or she is willing to accept the outcome and consequences of their actions and those we lead. Interestingly, leaders own negative outcomes and share, or even deflect, positive outcomes with others.

Respond with courage: Courage is where intention moves into action. Virtually every decision a leader makes requires some level of courage — strategy decisions, calendar decisions, people decisions, expansions and budget decisions. Is there a decision you need to make today?

Think of others first: This is the bedrock of becoming a leader people want to follow. Are you a serving leader or a self-serving leader? The people you lead know the difference. If it’s all about you, you’ll always struggle building followship. Rather than always seeking value from people, try adding value to people.

Leaders really are different. These five practices should provide a good benchmark against which you can measure your leadership character. Here’s a link to a free assessment if you want to go deeper.

I’ll close by repeating the good news again — we can become a leader people want to follow. The journey begins in your heart.