6 Qualities In a Leadership Role Model

by Sharlyn Lauby on February 17, 2013

A short while back, I wrote a post about disruption not being a career strategy. In the comments, Steve Jobs was mentioned and I commented that for every person who feels Jobs was an inspiration there’s another that will say how difficult he was to work with. A reader disagreed with me.

I would love to hear why a visionary CEO who led 60k+ employees and the rest of the planet into the next generation should not be looked upon as a role model.

I think we can all agree that Steve Jobs was a visionary. But being a visionary does not necessarily mean an individual is a great leader and role model. Today’s post isn’t to debate whether Jobs was a great leader or not. Even if we don’t agree with Jobs’ style, there could be moments when, depending upon the situation and the players involved, we all need to channel our jeans and black turtleneck to get something done.

leadership, servant leadership, role model, Steve Jobs, Robert Greenleaf, trading card

When I think of leadership role models, the first thing that comes to mind is servant leadership. The idea is, to be an effective leader, we adapt ourselves to the situation we are facing. We adjust our style so others understand instead of forcing others to adjust to us. In that way, we serve other first.

I was reminded of it recently in a piece written by Kareem Abdul-Jabar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, who wrote a review of the television show “Girls”. He got a lot of flack for writing the review. So much so that he explained why:

“We should all be intently listening to voices of the next generation, hearing what they have to say and, when they are struggling to say it, help them to articulate better.” He added, “That’s the advantage of growing older in this youth-centric society.”

Back in the 1970’s, Robert Greenleaf, director of management research at AT&T and founder of servant leadership, did the same thing. No, he didn’t watch “Girls” – he decided to read what the youth movement was reading at the time. The novel was “Journey to the East” by Hermann Hesse.

“Journey to the East” is about a group of people who are traveling to a new land.  Accompanying the group is their servant, Leo, who sings songs and takes care of their needs.  During the journey, Leo disappears from the group.  The group struggles to stay together and eventually disbands.  Several years later, it is discovered that Leo (the group’s servant) was really their leader. Inspired by Leo’s character, Greenleaf realizes that the key to leadership is to serve first.

Greenleaf talks about several qualities associated with servant leadership. Regardless of your philosophies about leadership, I’ve found over the years, these are ones that are consistently mentioned in conversations about leadership and role models.

  • Awareness – leaders must open the doors of perception and see what’s inside. This can be a disturbing thought.  But it’s to provide reality and see things in perspective.
  • Commitment to developing people – leaders help others become good leaders.
  • Empathy – leaders not only identify with others, but accept what others contribute. It requires a tolerance of imperfection.
  • Foresight – Being able to sense the unknowable and unforeseeable future gives leaders their “mojo”. As a leader, we must use good decision making skills and remember that a lack of decision making can be perceived as an ethical failure.
  • Listening – leaders naturally respond to a problem by listening first. True listening builds strength in others.
  • Persuasion – Whether it happens one person at a time or one action at a time, leaders are willing to use their talents and demand little from others. Even if it means standing aside and serving when asked.

Steve Jobs was a leader. Everyone has leadership ability. It’s how we use our leadership abilities that decides if we are a role model for others.

Image courtesy of HR Bartender

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