Qualities of Leadership
A 45-minute break between client meetings typically means I head to the nearest coffee shop. Once inside I’ll cover my lap with a napkin for warmth from the frigid air-conditioned atmosphere of noisy espresso machines, people chatting and the clacking of laptop keyboards.
On this day, though, I decided to practice the self-care I encourage my female coaching clients to practice. I went to a nearby park and sat on a bench hoping to soak in some of the summer sun before I walked the short distance to my next meeting.
A Leadership Lesson at the Park
What happened next was the highlight of my week. I sat near an area with fountains squirting into the air, an area where weary parents and babysitters come for some much-needed rest while their rambunctious children run and have fun.
I watched one group of children—three girls and two boys—ranging in age from about six to three years old. The youngest of the bunch was terrified to run near the biggest fountain that was dumping large quantities of water on the children within its reach. I watched intently, curious to see how the other children in the group would respond to the young girl’s fear.
Would they ignore her and continue with their own fun? Would they tease her for crying and screaming in terror? Would they band together and push the little one into what was terrifying her?
They did none of these things. In fact, what they did was exactly what I encourage my clients to do. The children led the littlest of their bunch the way the best leaders for whom we work lead every single day.
A Quality of Leadership at Play
The four children showed the way for their littlest counterpart. They ran through the “scary” fountain to prove to their fearful friend it wasn’t so bad. The best leaders do the same.
The best leaders lead by example and show the rest of us what it means to be courageous, strong, and resilient.
By watching them and the way they handle both failures and successes, we learn that it’s to be expected that things won’t always go our way. If our leader is willing to dive in and give it a try, though, it then gives us the courage to do the same.
Curiosity Wins Trust
Curiosity was evident in the children’s actions as well. They listened attentively to the reasons their little friend didn’t want to run along with them. They were curious as to her reasoning and didn’t judge her for those reasons. In his book On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis said, “The leader wonders about everything, wants to learn as much as he can, is willing to take risks, experiment, try new things. He does not worry about failure but embraces errors, knowing he will learn from them.”
When we see our leader being curious—asking those “what if…” questions and encouraging us to step outside that cozy box known as our comfort zone—we learn that life’s greatest celebrations come not from what we know but from what we never thought was possible for us.
With children, it often happens that they try one thing and move along quickly to the next. I thought that may happen with this bunch because, after all, the fountains were calling! This group continued to surprise me, though.
It was as if they knew that winning trust is something the most effective leaders do. They stuck it out with their friend. They listened; they ran through and showed her it wasn’t bad at all; they took her hand and allowed her to take baby steps toward the fountain. When she got close, they didn’t insist that she jump right in as they’d been doing. They allowed her to take her time, dip her toe in the water running near her, and gain confidence to go the whole way through.
Trust is Built Over Time
How often in our professional lives are we “thrown into the den of lions” and expected to fully trust the process and person doing the throwing?
The best leaders know that trust is built over time by simply being open and transparent in all communications and actions. They hide nothing, and from that, we learn that when things are good, we’ll hear the accolades. When things are bad, though, they’ll also communicate about lessons learned and where to go from there.
As you might expect, the little girl eventually did go through that big fountain. She grasped the hands of two of her buddies, and she ran through with a smile from ear to ear.
What a different outcome I’d have seen, though, if the group had ignored her or teased her or pushed her in right from the start. Probably the same outcomes we’ve observed and maybe experienced firsthand when our leaders don’t fully understand how vital strong leadership is.
From the leadership lesson at the water park that day, I walked to my client’s office, and we picked up where those fearless children left off. We discussed effective leadership, and I heard in my client’s voice her pride at what a passionate leader she’s becoming!
If you’re ready to ramp up the leader within you—regardless of your job title or station in life—I can help! Female leaders tired of running on the hamster wheel of life hire me to help them slow down that wheel so they can jump off and live a life they truly enjoy.