What constitutes a good leader? Have you ever pondered that question?
No, not just when you were going through a training or when you were reading a book. I mean, have you ever really pondered the question of what constitutes a good leader? What about a really good one?
At this point in my career, I’ve been under the direction and guidance of several different types of leaders, and I have spent my share of time in leadership roles. Sometimes, I was glad to step into a leadership role, while other times I was placed there for lack of other viable options. That’s another story in and of itself.
Think about the best leader you have ever worked with. Who was it and what made that person the absolute best? Now, flip that question and consider the converse. Who was it and what caused them to rank last on your list?
For me, I can pinpoint one person, who stood head and shoulders above the rest. His name is Richard Cox, and I worked with him for about six years.
The Really, Really Good Leader Richard was the type of leader who inspired me. He took the time to know me, personally, and uncover what made me tick. He knew my currency if you will. He understood my goals, my needs as his employee, my talents, and the areas in me that needed further development.
When I first went to work for Richard, I could not handle looking at all the spreadsheets and keeping up with where I was in relation to my goal as a salesperson. I wanted to go out every day and give it my best, without the stress of thinking I “had” to make this sale and without thinking I could take it easy, that day.
I just wanted to do my job to the best of my ability. Every. Single. Day.
Richard was the type of leader who inspired me. He took the time to know me, personally, and uncover what made me tick.
It sounds crazy to me looking back and knowing I wasn’t required to check my progress daily, and to be quite honest, I don’t know how or why he did it. But he did. He even told me he would watch the reports for me and let me know if I ever needed to be concerned.
You know what? He never once told me I needed to be concerned. In fact, during my first year working for him, I blew certain goals out of the park so much that at one of our sales meetings, he had to tell me to stand up when those who had the highest increase in digital usage were being recognized. I had no clue I was one of them until that moment.
By the way, I eventually learned how to navigate those reports and incorporate them into a daily routine. But being the great leader he was, he knew what the priorities for my development were and what to focus on. He knew when to push me further and when to give me time. He allowed me to focus on what was most important during each step of the process.
But Richard wasn’t a rescuer, either. He allowed us to wade the stormy waters a bit and learn to swim on our own, while knowing that a life preserver would be there if we ever needed it. This was invaluable to me, as it taught me to be self-sufficient and rely upon my own instincts and talents to figure it out – whatever “it” was.
He took a very personal approach to leading his team. He gave each of us what we needed as individuals when we needed it. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, “Richard could be coaching you on areas of deficiencies, and you would think he was praising you. Only later, upon reflection, would you realize he was using those conversation as teaching moments.”
What else made Richard stand out as the best of the best? His character, his competency, and his credibility. He was dang good at what he did and knew the business well. He had a proven track record of success. But perhaps most importantly, he cared about the whole person, not just the professional. He understood we were people with hearts, souls, spirits, and bodies.
I recall several conversations about our families, our physical health, our spiritual wellness, and our own personal goals. Nothing was off the table, when it came to one-on-one meetings, although he always knew when to redirect conversations.
He was so good at what he did – leading people. He knew how to listen and how to communicate effectively to his team. He knew how to inspire people to action. He knew how to drive each of us to excellence. It’s no wonder his teams and team members have landed at or near the top, year after year after year.
I learned so much about leadership, under his direction. I learned what an inspiring, passionate, effective leader looked like just by watching him and by being a part of his team.
The Boss Conversely, I experienced a boss who was a poor manager at one point in my career. Notice something here: I call him a “boss” or a “manager” rather than a leader because that is exactly what he was.
This man, let’s call him John, was a micro-manager. He was a tyrant. He made fun of his employees, he gossiped about them, he criticized them publicly, and he fired people occasionally just so everyone knew they were indispensable. He instilled a sense of fear throughout the workplace.
As someone who has been in teaching or training roles throughout most of my career, I was viewed as a safe person for many employees at that company, even in completely different departments, most likely because I was their teacher and not their boss. They would come to me, close my office door, and vent.
Unfortunately, I was in no position to “fix” many of their problems, as he was my supervisor and there wasn’t really anyone “above” him at that organization; however, I did my best to encourage and inspire these people. We talked about their feelings, and we talked about their goals. I didn’t see it then, but looking back, I can see how I was intentionally being the opposite of what we experienced from John.
Because there was no one for me to go to for my own concerns, I called upon the wisdom of my pastor’s wife, while working for John. I’ll never forget the words she said to me, “Amy, do your work as if you’re working for the Lord and not for man.” I had to remember those words, daily, before driving to the office and again, multiple times throughout my workday.
Amy, do your work as if you’re working for the Lord and not for man.
The difference in Richard and John was profound. One inspired me to be my absolute best, while the other instilled so much fear in me that I kept my head down and my mouth shut. One challenged me to continuously grow, while the other kept me stuck in the rut of the daily grind. One produced a top performer, while the other never even allowed me a chance to shine.
The Choice is Yours Leadership comes in many forms and makes a profound impact on those around you. You have a choice in the leadership style you choose to adopt. You can choose to inspire, uplift, support, coach, and develop your team or you can choose to criticize, condemn, and kill their creative abilities.
Rather than telling you the traits of a really, really good leader, I encourage you to consider what you have experienced in your own life. And then decide what you will do.
Will you be a true leader, or will you choose to simply manage your team? Will you choose to inspire creativity and growth, or will you choose to stifle the talents of those around you? What type of leader will you choose to be?
Truly, it’s no one’s choice but your own.