Recently I was at an event at the Princeton Club talking about my new book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness. Someone there asked me an intriguing question: “With all the work you do with leaders around the world, who are the leaders you most admire?”
I thought about it for a split second before answering to the room, “If you are living bravely and leading courageously, you are my hero. Those are the leaders I admire the most.”
That kind of courage has become sadly endangered. More than ever before, we have a real gap in our leadership.
The climate of leadership these days is laced with distrust and skepticism. We hold our leaders in doubt and their actions in mistrust. And the worst of it is knowing that what’s happening in leadership today is going to end up costing all of us in the years to come.
In the past, the leaders we looked up to had character we could value, traits we could admire, values we wanted to emulate.
But when so many examples of contemporary leadership are laced with ego and distrust, you have to wonder where we’re heading. The only way to salvage today’s leadership is to find the heroic leaders who are courageous enough to lead us in the right direction.
Heroic leaders are always in high demand—and that’s truer than ever now when they’re in such short supply. We all have what it takes if we’re willing to do the work.
Here are some simple but profound things you can do to advance your own brand of heroic leadership:
To get anything done, a heroic leader must move the status quo, end mediocrity and be brave enough to do things that matter even when they’re difficult or may cause conflict. It means not only talking but backing your words up with action.
Don’t Allow the New to Become the Norm
Heroic leaders are brave enough to remind us not to accept what we don’t value or respect. Faced with declining standards, too many of us are willing to tolerate a “new normal.” But heroic leaders habitually step back to think about how they can work for positive change—in themselves, in their organization and in the world. They have the courage not to normalize or accept bad behavior or bad leadership.
Break Down the Silos
Leadership is at its worst when it’s carried out from silos—isolated towers that make collaboration and communication impossible. Great leadership is a “we” message, not a “me” message. A heroic leader understands that true power of leadership is unity—knowing we’re all in this together. When one person tells others what to do and how to do it and everyone else has to keep quiet and listen, you have a dictatorship, not a democracy. The way to take back leadership is not with ego or power but with humility and collaboration.
Lead With EQ Instead of IQ
Many of us put a lot of emphasis on IQ—that is, skills and thought. And those are important, but they’re not enough on their own. Heroic leaders know that it’s important to connect with others emotionally and to make sure they know you have their back. They have a high degree of emotional intelligence.
Set the Standard
Heroic leaders set high standards for themselves and others. It’s about giving people something compelling to grasp on to and work for while making sure they feel heard and seen and understood.
Use Straight Talk
Heroic leaders have nothing to hide. They are brave enough and smart enough to keep the lines of communication open, even when they don’t know all the answers. They know how to use straight talk and are not afraid to say, “I don’t know.” They’re strong enough to share information instead of hoarding it.
Many leaders feel pressure to have all the answers. But heroic leaders encourage constructive dissent and healthy debate. They reinforce the strength of others and demonstrate that in the tension of diverse opinions lies a better answer. It’s not about who is right or wrong but about what can we learn from each other.
Don’t Confuse Authority and Power
The key to heroic leadership is influence, not authority—because authority isn’t power. If you are a heroic leader who has the ability to change someone’s perspective, never waste that gift. It’s one of the most powerful abilities you can have—especially when you use it on behalf of those who have no influence.
Start Accountability With Yourself
The role of heroic leadership is to set the expectations that everyone can commit to and be responsible for. Accountability starts with you. You must hold yourself responsible for modeling the behaviors and actions you want others to follow. People naturally emulate those who lead them, so stay aware that others are looking to you.
Lead From Within
You are here to make a difference—to either improve the world or worsen it. And, whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other. Choose courage, choose bravery, choose to be a hero. We need you now more than ever.
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