Great leadership can be a difficult thing to pin down and understand. You know a great leader when you’re working for one, but even they can have a hard time articulating what it is that makes their leadership so effective.
It was recently rumored that Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz would run for president, but Schultz shut the idea down almost immediately. He wrote in an article:
“Despite the encouragement of others, I have no intention of entering the presidential fray. I’m not done serving at Starbucks.”
Schultz commitment to his company over the temptation of the limelight is interesting. What’s admirable is his desire to be a leader who serves.
Service isn’t just something Schultz gives lip service to in the press; his mission is to create a company where people are treated with respect and dignity, and he backs this rhetoric up with his money and time. Starbucks will spend $250 million over the next 10 years to put benefit-eligible employees through college, and Schultz wakes up every day at 4:00 a.m. to send motivational e-mails to his employees (the email he wrote recently asking employees to show empathy for customers who have been affected by the plummeting stock market is an interesting example of this).
It’s through a leader’s actions—what he or she does and says on a daily basis—that the essence of great leadership becomes apparent.
“Dream more than others think practical. Expect more than others think possible. Care more than others think wise.” –Howard Schultz
Behavior can change, and leaders who work to improve their skills get results.
Not everyone can take on Warren Bennis as a mentor, of course, but when it comes down to it, improving your leadership skills is within your control. You just need to study what great leaders do and to incorporate these behaviors into your repertoire.
There are six critical things that great leaders do that really stand out. Any of us can do the same.
#1 – They’re kind without being weak
One of the toughest things for leaders to master is kindness. Kindness shares credit and offers enthusiastic praise for others’ work. It’s a balancing act, between being genuinely kind and not looking weak. The key to finding that balance is to recognize that true kindness is inherently strong—it’s direct and straightforward. Telling people the difficult truth they need to hear is much kinder than protecting them (or yourself) from a difficult conversation. This is weak.
True kindness also doesn’t come with expectations. Kindness is weak when you use it in a self-serving manner. Self-serving kindness is thin—people can see right through it when a kind leader has an agenda. Think of Schultz, who dedicated $250 million to employee education with no strings attached, and as soon as employees finish their degree, they are free to walk out the door. That’s true kindness.
#2 – They’re strong without being harsh
Strength is an important quality in a leader. People will wait to see if a leader is strong before they decide to follow his or her lead or not. People need courage in their leaders. They need someone who can make difficult decisions and watch over the good of the group. They need a leader who will stay the course when things get tough. People are far more likely to show strength themselves when their leader does the same.
A lot of leaders mistake domineering, controlling, and otherwise harsh behavior for strength. They think that taking control and pushing people around will somehow inspire a loyal following. Strength isn’t something you can force on people; it’s something you earn by demonstrating it time and again in the face of adversity. Only then will people trust that they should follow you.