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The Most Important Behaviors of a Leader
Call them virtues, attributes, or behaviors, they're about how you show up
“What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1875
People pay attention to what leaders say. It’s why we established communication as the most important job of a leader in the last newsletter.
But more than your words, people will be paying attention to how you behave as a leader. They’ll look at the attributes that define you as a person, both on the job and off.
Whether you call them attributes, virtues, or behaviors, the notion is the same: you are more starkly defined by your character than your statements. Your reputation can be built based on what you say, but your actions reveal your true inner self.
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“Perhaps a man’s character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” — Abraham Lincoln, 1842
In his essay “Self-Reliance” in 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson echoed the wisdom of the Ancient Greeks: that character is destiny. And the character of leaders will eventually overshadow them and come to define what they stood for:
“Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design; and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients. A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave to his genius, that he is confounded with virtue and the possible of man. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man; as Monachism, of the Hermit Antony; the Reformation, of Luther; Quakerism, of Fox; Methodism, of Wesley; Abolition, of Clarkson. Scipio, Milton called "the height of Rome"; and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.”
What are some virtues that make up the character of a leader?
There are loads of them (enough for a book), but I’ll outline just six of them, to match the six aspects of good communication I shared last week.
And each section title links to further newsletters on the topic.
A good leader should have a high level of emotional intelligence, which means they are aware of and can manage their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others (i.e., empathy).
This can help them to build strong relationships with your team, and create a workplace that thrives on collaboration and a positive attitude.
A good leader should be honest and transparent, and be willing to take responsibility for their actions and decisions.
When leaders demonstrate integrity, they become respected and trusted within the team, and create a positive and accountable work culture.
One of the most difficult duties of any leader is to be honest with their people when facing a challenge. But you can’t lead by ignoring reality. Even when the reality is more insurmountable than you think.
In fact, that’s especially when it’s time to step up, trust your people, and create a path forward by committing to working together.
In an age when crises loom at every moment and stress is threatening to creep up on us like Jack the Ripper, patience is indeed a virtue—armor against emotionally-driven reactions, both from without and within.
Have you found yourself warming up to someone who is impatient and quick to fly off the handle? Likely not. A leader who is patient is a leader who is respected.
Leadership can be lonely. Decisiveness (another key leadership behavior) requires the courage of your conviction. As does authenticity, which is related to sincerity in the Wooden Pyramid below.
The courage to be your authentic self and to bear responsibility for your decisions is something that every leader needs to possess.
When you show up consistently and repeatedly over time, when you meet your obligations, you’re reliable. And reliability builds trust.
Trust is the basis of all thriving relationships; lack of it is the decay that rots them away.
The legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden developed a visual that he called his Pyramid of Success.1 You can see it framed in Ted Lasso’s office on the show.
The building blocks make up the interior of the pyramid, and it’s framed by mortar on both sides — the left being “The Force of the Human Spirit” and the right being “The Strength of Human Character.”
However you choose to look at leadership behaviors and attributes, I hope you build a character that can withstand the rigors of the world and industry in which you work.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
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Further reading: Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life by John Wooden and Jay Carty