Leadership is trending.
It’s not new, but now more than ever, it’s trending.
We’ve made it into a job title: team leader.
Into a compliment.
It’s in politics and in fashion.
Why? Because there’s a growing need for inspiration, positive role models and direction.
Because mindsets matters.
A leader is different than a boss, a manager or a CEO.
In an ideal world, they’d be synonyms.
In ours, it’s a corporate unicorn.
But they do exist. You just have to be lucky enough to find one and smart enough to learn from him.
How to spot them?
Some are natural born leaders, others work hard to develop the skills, while some fake it.
Knowing how to spot a real leader from a phony can save you a lot of time and mind-share.
Look for authentic qualities, pay attention to details, reactions and the real intent behind their actions.
You’re looking for an individual that would do his job for free.
A weirdo, basically.
His passion inspire others to follow him, it will make you want to work for him and help him achieve everything.
You want him to succeed and to be a part of it.
He’s a daredevil that challenges minds.
He’s open to suggestions and knows how to listen.
Fake sign: Try not to fall for the paradigm of success, power and respect. The trio is unstoppable if encountered in the same person. But having one element does not not guarantee the existence of others.
Moreover, people wrongly presume that being great at your job makes you a good leader.
Not necessarily true.
In my 10 years of corporate life, I’ve encountered flawless experts, with a tremendous passion and drive for always improving their work. Yet, no people skills. No desire of teaching others.
Remember we need more than that when looking for unicorns.
This is a common trait I found in many true leaders, no matter their job titles.
They have a higher purpose in mind.
Whether it’s helping people, improving the quality of their lives, changing the system, innovation, they have that as an ultimate goal.
That’s why they are restless.
From Steve Jobs to Mother Teresa, you can find this quality in every authentic leader.
Fake sign: EGO. Look out for people that want to satisfy their ego and need others for that as well.
Coming from an ex- communist country and a job culture that worships the concept of the “boss”, I am very familiar with the personality cult. The cult of personality is a phenomenon that took place in several countries in the world, when a leader or an authority figure creates an idealized or heroic persona that becomes the center of quasi-worshipful adoration among the general population.
The modern professional scene is more subtle, true, but you can still the signs.
If respect is not a two way street, if different opinions are not encouraged, if the image displayed is not the same as the reality and you can sense a lack of transparency, try to find the source. More often than you’d think, it comes from the top.
Regardless of the consequences, genuine leaders take full responsibility.
For their actions, for their team. They own it all.
No pointing fingers or awkward silence.
Fake sign: this is a no-brainer, right? People that are always blaming others for everything that is going wrong.
The bigger picture
“Think like a janitor and not like the CEO”.
If you want to tell the difference between a real leader and a wannabe see who applies this, on a regular basis.
The CEO has a limited view about what is actually going on, he meets with a handful of people and he doesn’t interact with all the employees that actually make things happen.
The janitor knows every floor, every desk, he talks to everybody, from the first one at the office to the last person to leave at the end of the day.
He is hands on. He knows his team, his company, his product.
Leaders have a vision of all that.
Fake sign: dealing with failure badly.
Having a clear vision of the company and its ultimate goal makes bouncing back from a misstep easy.
How people convey good and bad news, how they tackle obstacles and deal with failure on a daily basis, says a lot about the type of leader they are.
That doesn’t mean natural leaders are fail proof.
They fail big time.
Some have even made an art form out of it.
But their comeback is magical too due to their unique mindset.
This is the key element that ties it all in.
The common belief is that you need to be cut throat, show no mercy, leave nothing behind to get ahead.
The corporate world is infused with a war based vocabulary.
We are always fighting the competition, winning a pitch, crushing the enemy, crunching the numbers, battling for the first place.
But losing your human approach towards your peers, will ultimately make you lose their respect.
It’s a simplistic, yet powerful truth.
I realized just how big its power was when I heard it loud and clear, together with over 20k of people.
I was attending an international marketing conference last year and Michelle Obama was invited to give a key note. Needless to say I arrived 2 hours earlier that day and couldn’t stop smiling or shaking from excitement.
While answering questions and being her natural awesome self, she said “You can’t lead with fear”.
The crowd went crazy. You could feel and see the energy.
People needed to be reassured of that.
True leaders know it.
It’s the bond and the promise people are longing for. Everyone feels the need to be understood and valued.
How a shot caller reacts and deals with different stressful situations, as well as his life principles are a huge influence on the company culture.
Empathy, kindness, compassion together with the ability to listen and understand where the other one is coming from are crucial.
Fake sign: Big egos are not big on caring for other people.
Nurturing positive relationships and attitudes cannot be subject to compromise by the ego of whoever is in charge.
Pay attention to the signs I’ve outlined above and look for the genuine corporate unicorn that embodies passion, a higher purpose, a bigger picture, accountability and compassion.