As you gain an understanding of the characteristics of a leader you move from the mindset of managing people to truly leading them. If you’ve been fortunate enough to experience Authentic Leadership from someone else in your organization then your understanding of those characteristics will happen quickly. If you’ve had the misfortune of working only for a boss then your transition from managing to actually leading could be much slower…if it happens at all.
Considering that I make my living “teaching” people how to lead this next sentence might come as a surprise to some. The fact is that leadership cannot be taught. It can only be modeled.
What I can do is teach the characteristics of an Authentic Leader. That tends to speed up the process of transitioning from attempting to manage people to truly leading them.
The characteristics of leadership that I most often speak and write about include Integrity. I list that as the most important characteristic of leadership because if people don’t trust you they cannot follow you.
This is one of the reasons it is so much more challenging to lead people than it is to manage them. Someone who is managing people has less to be concerned about when it comes to trust. They are forcing the compliance of their people and trust is not a requirement for compliance.
A leader however puts forth the effort to earn the commitment of their people. They know that without the trust of their people that commitment is impossible. So they do what they say they will do. Their actions match their words. Trust comes directly from integrity so Authentic Leaders speak, act and even think with integrity.
People in leadership positions who manage people want to be trusted but they hope for the trust of their people. A leader intentionally works for it. A manager expects the commitment of their people. An Authentic Leader understands that commitment is a two-way street. They commit to their people before they expect their people to commit to them.
Another vital characteristic of leadership is judgment. Leaders are required to make decisions both large and small. They don’t get them all right but they get most of the big ones right. They don’t assume and when they need more information to make a sound decision they seek it out. They know that they don’t need to know it all and they don’t think admitting that they don’t is a weakness.
Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.
Authentic Leaders display moral courage. Their judgment is informed by that moral courage and they do not shy away from difficult decisions or the conflicts that can result. They don’t need a poll to know what is right. They know what is wrong is wrong, even if everyone else is doing it.
Managers may say they care and indeed they may but Authentic Leaders show they care and they do it with great intentionality. Saying you care leaves room for doubt, showing you care removes that doubt and deepens the commitment level of your people.
Caring for people is an essential leadership characteristic. It has been said by too many people to know who said it first that no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
Authentic Leaders know that it is not a weakness to demonstrate caring and compassion for people. They genuinely want the best for people in general and especially for the people they lead.
Their caring motives are always on display and it’s that characteristic that initially draws people to them. Where a manager might leave you wondering about their motives an Authentic Leader never will.