As I was packing for a busy trip to the west coast of the US, Amy Levin-Epstein wrote to me with a question: “What is it that real leaders would never say?” Amy blogs for CBS MoneyWatch, and her pieces are pithy and fast, so if I was going to keep up with her, I would have to be pithy and fast, too! At first I came up with nothing—I could imagine what real leaders would say, but it was much harder to imagine what they would never say. In other words, what words would you say to show that you weren’t a really excellent leader? Here’s my first shot:
“I don’t have the time to listen.”
In moments of stress, a great leader might sometimes think these words, but she never lets them escape her lips because she knows how vital listening is. In fact, real leaders understand that when they are feeling the most time crunched, they need to commit even harder to listening well. Listening doesn’t just help make a leader popular—listening to a diverse set of perspectives and trying to learn from those differences makes a leader smarter and more innovative.
“That’s just the way I am.”
Real leaders understand that people grow and change over time. They have a mind-set that looks for and encourages growth—in themselves and in others. Leaders with this growth mindset are not only more likely to lead successful change initiatives, they’re also more likely to be growing themselves, becoming more agile, more able to deal with complexity, and more creative in times of constraint.
“Be certain this thing will work—I don’t want any mistakes.”
Real leaders understand that new ideas and “mistakes” go together as a pair. The next generation of innovative and excellent leaders (and the thriving organizations they lead) will be the ones who can support their people to prototype, to engage in safe-to-fail experiments that might well fail (safely) but from which everyone can learn. The capacity to support others to learn from failure, to create solutions no one ever thought about before, and to grow are all hallmarks of the extraordinary leader.
So that’s the beginning of my list, but Amy didn’t ask just me. You can see her list here.
What’s your list?