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When many people are asked to think of a leader who inspires them—or who they aspire to emulate—they are frequently drawn to those whose leadership has elevated them to a certain level of celebrity. Renowned political and world leaders, respected religious and spiritual leaders, CEOs and business moguls are all among the esteemed and oft-quoted leaders—and rightly so. There are countless examples of individuals with profound intellect, wisdom, strength and grit whose stories of struggle, sacrifice and success are widely broadcast. But what I find more meaningful when I consider what has shaped my own definition of great leadership, are the examples of the leaders I have been fortunate to encounter in my personal life, whose stories are not well-known.
Defining leadership: Variations and commonalities
When I think about who I want to be as a leader, it is a combination of individuals who have made an impact on my life because of their leadership. The list is long and includes parents, grandparents, bosses, mentors, coaches, professors and teachers, and they all lead differently than you might expect. Some are introverted and soft-spoken, but when they talk everyone listens. In contrast, some are more extroverted. They can command a room with a grand presence you cannot help but admire. Then there are those whose leadership qualities manifest in more subtle ways. They all have different leadership styles, none necessarily better or worse than the others, but all are effective.
It is essential for our society to have leaders with varying leadership styles. That being said, there are certain qualities that many good leaders share. I have found that natural leaders are terrified of silence in a way. They are often the first to speak up when everyone else is struggling to come up with an answer. However, the best leaders also listen before they speak. They have a way of recognizing the unique strengths of their teams and then utilizing them so each individual feels empowered and valued. Yet they do not take credit for the job that their team has done, nor do they abandon them when their work is called into question. They motivate through encouragement, positive reinforcement and coaching, rather than through fear. Good leaders also lead by example and know when it is necessary to take a back seat.
Leading in the business world
In my opinion, the quality that separates good leaders from truly great leaders is a desire to do things the right way, the honest way and with integrity. This is particularly true in the competitive world of business. Our society tends to attribute financial success to strong leadership, or to use financial success as a barometer for leadership quality. But there are countless examples that demonstrate that this is not always an accurate measurement.
When it comes to marketing in particular, the best leaders are creative and innovative, ready to try something new and unwilling to settle for the status quo. They are also able to recognize and acknowledge when a strategy isn’t working and have the courage to change course when appropriate. This ability to be proactive, adapt and problem-solve is essential for leaders in all disciplines. Natural leaders do not simply talk about problems. Rather, they are the first to present solutions and have a way of motivating others to jump on board to implement them. Really, that’s one of the secrets to success—if you can call it a secret—to identify problems, come up with the best, most innovative solutions and then execute them quickly and effectively.
Natural leadership vs. learned leadership
While many leadership qualities are innate, I believe the notion that leaders are born is only true to a point. Certainly natural leaders have a way of bubbling to the surface and certain traits like a willingness to learn and emotional intelligence are inborn. The argument could also be made that leaders self-select to a certain extent. However, some leadership skills can be taught and developed through experience. I think the key here is that everyone has unique, intrinsic talents and strengths and they are all different. What can be taught is how to lead effectively with what you’ve been given—how to best utilize those innate qualities.
Our society tends to focus primarily on leadership as it relates to official recognition and status, often leading us to believe that if you’re not a leader, you haven’t “made it.” This is simply not true. Equally as important as the gift of inherent leadership traits is the gift of the ability to be led. After all, the highest performing teams are diverse in terms of their collective abilities and strengths. Therefore, it is important for those in a more official leadership capacity to recognize the unique strengths of each person they lead, and work to nurture and develop those qualities for the benefit of the group.
Recognizing leadership potential
The practice of seeking out and nurturing leaders is directly applicable to recruiting new talent to an organization. One way to identify natural leaders from a pool of applicants is to look at what extracurricular activities they are involved in, like volunteer work, serving on a board, etc. Look for instances in which they have chosen to take the reins, whether inside or outside of work, without being forced to. True leaders don’t need to be told what to do. They take the initiative and find solutions.
When seeking out leaders, recruiters and managers need to be careful not to overlook or discredit younger leaders. While there is no substitute for experience, some of those intangible, innate leadership qualities can manifest early in life. You don’t have to look far to see great leaders emerging from the Millennial generation. A number of successful companies are being started and driven by young entrepreneurs whose fresh ideas and leadership styles are changing and disrupting the market. It would be foolish to underestimate their influence and promise. Skilled leaders understand that they have a unique opportunity to mentor young leaders and give them the guidance and support they need to become the great leaders of tomorrow.
Engaging and retaining quality leaders
Identifying leaders of all ages to add to your organization is only half the battle. They have to want to join you and the key to this is rather simple. Successful people want to be associated with successful companies. Leaders are attracted to companies on the move, companies where they will naturally be a good fit. Much of this perception starts from the top down, with the company’s existing leadership structure. Ultimately, the best thing an organization can do to attract great leaders is to commit as a whole to doing business the right way, with honesty and integrity.
Once you’ve attracted great leaders to your organization, the challenge becomes retaining them. It will not take long for competitors to realize the value and potential of your best leaders and you can bet they will try to win them over. But your leaders will be less likely to jump ship if they feel truly valued, that their contributions make a difference. Part of that expression of value comes in the form of trusting them to do their job. Fortunately great leaders can be trusted to perform and will often exceed expectations. Ensuring their voice is heard and giving them a seat at the table when it comes to decision-making can also have an impact on their job satisfaction. Competitive compensation, while important, is often farther down the list compared to quality of life at work. Give your leaders the quality of life they are seeking and deserve, and you and your company will reap the benefits.
Brad Herbert is the head of the Marketing Team at Castle & Cooke Mortgage LLC, and is responsible for leading and implementing a comprehensive marketing strategy for all Castle & Cooke Mortgage digital, social, PR, advertising and lead generation initiatives. He may be reached by phone at (801) 461-7105 or e-mail BHerbert@CastleCookeMortgage.com.
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.