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Five Qualities Genuine Leaders Have in Common

Five Qualities Genuine Leaders

COVID-19 reminds us that we live in a world full of uncertainty—and this will continue well beyond the pandemic. But it only intensifies something we were already seeing in the world of work: organizations need to adapt constantly to keep up with market dynamics. Unfortunately, this can take a toll on employees if businesses focus on efficiency but don’t create an environment where people feel they belong. And with today’s digital economy and globalized markets making organizations more and more decentralized, it’s getting harder than ever for workers to create meaningful relationships with others.

A recent MIT study underscores this. It surveyed top professionals from more than 120 countries about the skills needed for effective leadership in the decade ahead. It found that even more than in the past, leaders need to articulate a clear vision and strategy and provide a sense of shared purpose.

Employees are expressing this, too. Millennials and Generation Z crave purpose as well as ethical behaviors from their bosses. We saw that when more than 32,000 students in France signed a pledge to work for environmentally conscious companies, or when thousands of Google employees signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a government program that uses artificial intelligence to enhance military tactics.

Today’s workers also want autonomy and empowerment. They look for a work environment where they can decide how the job gets done. A Gallup study of the American workforce found that 42 percent of Millennials would switch to a job that allows them to work independently on a project of their choosing, and 63 percent to a job that allows them flexible hours.

This kind of workplace demands a different kind of leader: people who follow their inner convictions and passions, and who engage with others in an authentic and open way.

Leaders who behave like this are especially well-positioned to make a difference—let’s call them genuine leaders. They have a deep understanding of themselves, including their values, ambitions, and goals. They also lead with generosity: they care about others and empower their teams to fulfill their own ambitions. These leaders show you who they are as human beings, rather than hiding behind a mantle of power. They are not afraid to share their personal stories in a way that resonates with others and are able to shape a collective narrative that fosters trust and a common purpose—enabling others to find meaning in their own work.

When people work alongside genuine leaders, they become more willing to give their whole hearts and minds to the mission. They feel motivated to work with others, to innovate, and to strive for extraordinary results.

For my new book, The Expanding Circle, I interviewed three dozen genuine leaders across industries. While each of them has their own unique style for getting the job done, we can distill five common themes:

1. Achieving clarity of purpose. Genuine leaders have a deep understanding of their values, ambitions, and goals, and project their true selves for all to see. This self-awareness helps them lead with confidence and share their true passion and commitment. This authenticity helps create trust with others. It’s also critical to ensuring collaboration.

2. Crafting a genuine personal story. Humans are hardwired to learn through storytelling. By sharing a personal story that reflects their values and convictions, these leaders help others understand who they are and what they stand for. A story that resonates with others helps build trust and establishes a common ground for working together.

3. Seeking to understand others. Many people rely on their past experiences or even “intuition” to guess what others want. But intuition is a shortcut—and not a particularly good one. Genuine leaders spend time listening to others, asking questions, and exchanging ideas. They avoid prejudging others, which allows them to really see the people they are trying to reach—who they are and what they care about.

4. Shaping a shared narrative. Based on this deep understanding of others, these leaders develop a shared narrative, providing a common purpose and strategic direction: where we need to go, why it matters, and how we’re going to get there. This kind of narrative establishes a framework for teams to work together.

5. Empowering others. Fundamentally, these leaders see their role as creating the right conditions for all team members to take the initiative and contribute their best. They don’t try to micromanage or impose their own working style. They set the strategic direction and trust their team to get things done. And they create space for others to find purpose for themselves and develop their full potential.

As we move into this new decade, we need leaders who can tune in fully: to themselves, to others, and to the world around them.

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Leading Forum
Matias Obludzyner is a communications and leadership professional Matioblu Leadership & Communications in Washington, D.C. He is the author of The Expanding Circle: How Genuine Leaders Connect with Themselves, Connect with Others, and Make a Difference.

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