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I speak often to groups of aspiring young leaders. Typically, the question on their minds when I begin is "what do I need to DO to become a leader?" I quickly aim to change their orientation from what they must DO to what they must BE.
Success in leadership is attributed not only to what you do; it is dependent on who you are. We set young leaders up to fall if we encourage them to envision what they can do before first considering the kind of kind of leader they want to be.
This holds particularly true for aspiring young women. By helping young women understand the kind of leader they must be, we enable and elevate their ability to influence, catalyze and transform the future.
I have detailed the following TO-BE List for their consideration:
Be a Learner. Being a lifelong learner is what empowers your relevance for the rest of your life. Eric Hoffer captured it best when he said, "In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." Don't be beautifully equipped for irrelevance -- keep learning.
Be a Question Asker. I have been teaching and writing about the importance of asking great questions for a long time. Great questions are the best way to have a meaningful conversation, the best way to rope in a mentor and the best way to look like a star performer. Make it a priority to listen to people asking great questions. Be in charge of the questions you ask and keep a list of the best questions you hear. Use this to create a question toolbox you use and can apply to every conversation and interaction you have.
Be Courageous. We don't serve the rest of the world or ourselves by playing small. Humanity's misfortune is when we don't realize the very gifts we have, or the impact we have the opportunity to make. It is imperative that you own and honor your genius, and make a contribution that matters. Don't wait to be recognized; find appropriate ways to trumpet your achievements.
Be Kind. We lead our lives in the company of others, and that is where we leave our legacy. It's the quality of our relationships that most determines whether our legacy will be momentary or long-lasting. Don't ever pass up a chance to let others know they are noticed and that they matter to you.
Be Patient and Persistent. Most things of lasting value take time and discipline to achieve. Know that things worth doing seldom come easy. There will be good days and bad days. The bad times tell you that you are pushing yourself, that you are not afraid to learn by trial and error.
Be Passionate. Passion is not only a differentiator; it is a difference maker. Passion makes the impossible possible.That's what makes a passionate leader effective. She conceives of possibilities and opportunities for progress, whereas dispassionate persons only see roadblocks.
Be Hopeful. Hope is something that takes on a life of its own. As a leader, your ability to be hopeful and dispense hope is crucial to helping those you lead thrive in face of difficulty. Bring the hope of something great to come.
Be Humble. One of the world's most admired leaders is Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. His annual letters to stockholders are widely read. They highlight a litany of successes, but Buffett also readily acknowledges his failures. For example, his 2007 letter included a section titled, "The Good, the Bad and the Gruesome," with one part referred to as "confession time," in which Buffett acknowledges mistakes that cost his investors billions of dollars. The section concludes with Buffett's prediction that he'll "make more mistakes in the future -- you can bet on that." Don't be afraid to be humble, when appropriate.
Be Empathetic. One of my favorite CEOs tells a story of a rare time when he failed to be empathetic. One morning, a female engineer showed up late and groggy for a group meeting. He loudly called her out, sending her crying from the room. Her manager politely explained that on the previous day, the engineer had diagnosed a catastrophic problem that interrupted operations. She worked until 6:30 a.m. to fix it, went home, showered and returned for the meeting, ten minutes late. An empathetic leader would not have been so eager to make an example of someone that she would have missed the signals this engineer was surely giving off.
Would you follow leaders with these traits and qualities? What can we add or do to help nurture those who seek or are called to serve?
Leadership is a choice. The choice is ours to help them make; TO-BE or NOT-TO-BE.
That is the question for all young women who aspire to be leaders.