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The 10 Things Great Leaders Do

27th November 2014 | Paul Lawrence

Organizational development expert, executive coach and author of new title Leading Change, Paul Lawrence shares the 10 attributes of great leaders in our latest post.

Leading Change (9780749471682)

In researching Leading Change I spoke to 50 leaders around the world, including 25 CEOs, all experienced in leading change. From those conversations the following attributes of great leaders emerged:

They thrive on ambiguity. The leaders I spoke to were under no illusions. Today’s world is complex and no one person nor one small team can be expected to have all the answers. The people I spoke to were comfortable not knowing, in contrast to other leaders who believed it was their role to know all the answers.

They are deeply curious. Many leaders involve only a few trusted advisors in deciding what needs to be done before asking the rest of the organisation to implement. Great leaders recognise the need to ‘manage by walking about’ (MBWA) in order to develop a better understanding of the 'big picture' and involve others in the decision making process.

They listen deeply. Leaders who are deeply curious listen deeply. They listen beyond the most obvious meaning of a word or sentence, seeking to understand the source of the other person’s meaning making; their values, beliefs and assumptions.

They are highly authentic. They understand the difference between sincerity (being open and transparent) and authenticity (being open and transparent and self aware). They are deeply curious about themselves; their drivers, values and beliefs, and are committed to becoming more self aware through observing themselves in action. From authenticity is born courage.

They speak without fear. Great leaders understand that people want to know what they’re thinking. At times of uncertainty and change they don’t go quiet. They know how much value they can add by attempting to make the complex simple. Yet they share their point of view without expecting people to immediately agree with their perspective. They don't get anxious at the prospect of being challenged.

They crave feedback. While most of us do what we can to avoid feedback, great leaders go hunting for it. Feedback helps them understand how they are perceived by others, a key aspect of becoming more self-aware and more authentic.

They reflect. In today’s busy world most of us get sucked in; sucked in to the detail and sucked into ‘doing’. Emerging leaders make time to reflect on what they’re seeing and hearing, standing back to reflect on the bigger picture. Great leaders, curious leaders, are continually reflecting as a matter of habit.

They search for resistance. Resistance to change is a whole lot more healthy than indifference. Great leaders seek out resistance seeing it as a sign that people want to engage in dialogue. They recognise that others want to ask questions, share their own perspectives and to be heard and look for opportunities to oblige.

They are purposeful. Great leaders know where they want to go. This sense of purpose is dynamic and ever-evolving, fed through dialogue with others. Great leaders don’t establish a purpose then sit back and expect others to deliver. They listen and they talk, and they hold onto purpose as a locus point for dialogue.

They understand power. They recognise the responsibility and limitations of positional power. They know that people make sense of change by talking to people in their immediate environment and the need therefore to support dialogue across the organisation. They recognise the existence of different forms of power, and chart their journey intuitively through the complexity of power and politics.

The leaders I spoke to were fearlessly curious, committed to engaging in dialogue with others, their courage rooted in a deep sense of who they are and who they want to be. 

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Note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn by the author.


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