When To Push And When To Let Go

There are times when shaking hands and walking away is the best strategy. But it’s hard to know when to stop pushing. (Image: imagemajesty)

All around me, people are getting divorced. Colleagues confide in me at networking events, friends announce over dinner, and distant acquaintances post it on Facebook. As someone still (thankfully, fingers and toes crossed) happily married — and the only intact marriage in three generations of my family — I am awed by the difficulty of the decision to stop trying, accept the sunk costs, and just let go.

Because no matter who’s at fault, or who wanted what, at some point to find peace you need to stop pushing and accept what is.

You can use your full energy and control many variables, right up until you can’t.

Knowing when to push (or not) is hard enough for the little stuff, not to mention the life-changing decisions. Well beyond divorce, this concept of when to push or let go is a tender, nuanced affair that affects so much of our lives. It dictates foreign policy, the wars we fight, and the health of our most intimate friendships and family relationships. It influences our careers, and how we manage the job market. And if you’re in sales, you know an over-steer on one variable can kill the deal.

Confession: I am not very good at making the right call.

My natural inclination is to push, and if that doesn’t work, double down and push harder. If I’m really inspired, I’ll find another spot to push from.

So I’ve had to teach myself to hold back and let things play out. Because sometimes that’s the right angle to take, and other times it’s the only one. It also brings clarity and a chance to recalibrate.

True influence comes from the dance of pushing and retracting, in balanced orchestration so no toes feel stepped on yet positions are clear.

Knowing this doesn’t always make it easier though. Especially in times of stress or uncertainty.

(By the way, I know there are many people who have the opposite issue — they prefer to let the universe make the decision for them. It’s two sides to the coin, and can be a problem at both extremes.)

Thankfully, I’ve had some great mentors who have given me terrific advice on when to ease up on the reins. They’ve helped me learn when the best option is doing absolutely nothing, or letting a situation breathe awhile. I carry their words around like talismans to sort through and take out as needed. Here are some of my favorites to share for anyone else out there who wrestles with similar tendencies:

1. Sleep on it.

Learning to take one simple night to digest an issue before making a move was life changing for me. I can’t count how many draft emails I’ve deleted the next morning, or  meetings I realized I didn’t need to have. I used to believe that decisiveness meant solving as many issues as possible before collapsing at day’s end. I learned that true decisiveness is first determining which issues aren’t actually “issues” at all.

2. Let it marinate.

This expression is so apt because, just like that steak in the fridge, sometimes we improve when we stew in our own juices. One of my great friends, who is both professionally accomplished and zen-as-all-get-out, lent me this concept. My default is when in doubt, let it marinate. (Just not forever or things get squishy.)

3. Don’t negotiate against yourself.

Anyone who has been in sales knows how important it is to manage yourself during the wait-and-see phase between the proposal and the final decision. When you don’t hear back from a potential client in a timely fashion, which is pretty much always, you start to invent ways to sweeten the pot (read: push). It’s  tempting to fill the void by offering price reductions, or extra services, all based on a conversation you’ve had with yourself. You’re effectively negotiating against yourself, assuming the other person’s position and responding to it. It’s fine to follow up to show interest, but beyond that, stick your landing and stay put.

P.S. This same concept applies to dating. See the cringe-worthy voice mail scene in Swingers for reference.

4. It’s out of your hands.

For me, one way I can have peace with the letting go part is when I know I’ve done my best, and contributed an effort that makes me proud. After that, I imagine a hand off, from mine to those of someone else. Even if it’s an idea, at some point it makes a transition in ownership. It’s not always easy for me to know when to stop owning whatever it is I’m delivering, but I find that as long as I can stand behind my part, I’m generally good.

5. Detach yourself from the outcome.

I have a great coach colleague who stresses this, and I borrow the idea often. Similar to the point above, this is learning to say: “Whatever happens, happens. I can learn, grow and succeed from any outcome.” There is immense personal power in this statement. It’s an automatic brake to any attempt to push too far, and imbues a quiet confidence you can’t buy otherwise. (Which is transformational in job interviews.)

This doesn’t mean you don’t care what happens! It simply means you’ve done your part, and you’re strong enough to handle any outcome.

How are you at knowing when to push or let it go? Comment here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage OthersFind her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.

Having A Greg Smith Moment

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 15: A man pauses in front...

Many people have their own "Greg Smith" moments when their values are tested at work. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

When I read Greg Smith’s blistering op-ed about Goldman Sachs in the New York Times two weeks ago, like many, I was floored. My first thought was “How brave!” quickly followed by, “Is he crazy?” Publicly quitting your job with a resignation letter to the world stating that your former company is “ripping people off” with “morally bankrupt” leadership is not a good career move.

(No matter if he can get a great book deal as the media quickly pointed out. The guy was already raking it in at Goldman, after all.)

Despite our collective cynicism about his motivations, I’m choosing to take him at his word that he could no longer quietly take the misalignment between Goldman’s values and his own.

Though Goldman attempted to undermine his credibility by calling him a “disgruntled, mid-level employee,” numerous accounts corroborate what Smith himself said: he was a star performer on a fast-track who felt compelled to call out an ethical breakdown in one of our vaulted institutions. One of Smith’s colleagues described him as having a “clear moral compass.”

I can’t speak to the accuracy of Smith’s account at Goldman, or why it took him 12 years to figure all this out. And frankly, that’s not why I’m writing about it.

At some point in our careers, many of us will find ourselves in a place where what we’re asked to do at work directly contradicts our own deeply held values. I’m not talking about the small indignities that come from having a boss on a power trip or a job you hate. But rather the piercing jabs at your conscience that make you wonder who you really are.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, count yourself lucky. Many of us can call up more than one. (I spent the first part of my career in politics so I’m fully stocked.)

As a coach, I counsel executives every day on how to be more effective, to reframe problems, and salvage damaged relationships. Most corporate issues can be overcome.

Except when your values are at stake. Then it’s time to go.

There’s no grey area in integrity. On more occasions than I can count, I’ve coached people who were asked to sacrifice deeply held values for their jobs. They may think it’s just this once, but it’s never a single point in time. It eats at them, eroding how they feel about the company and themselves. It’s a destructive cycle.

You don’t have to publicly lambast the company on your way out, and in fact I’d certainly not  recommend it. As I wrote previously, people remember how you leave, not what you did prior. (Do you think anyone cares how well Greg Smith performed for a decade?)

Many years ago I heard a talk by a former executive who served jail time for the savings and loan scandal in the 1980s. He wasn’t a bad guy; on the contrary he was self-aware, warm and normal. He described how he went down the path of his undoing by one tiny ethical lapse at a time, until he was squarely in criminal territory. His warning to his CEO audience: clearly know your values and don’t break them. For anything.

With that advice, Greg Smith would have quit far ahead of any unstoppable need to write in the New York Times.

If you’re in the middle of your own Greg Smith situation, whether it’s caused by an interpersonal situation or the broad corporate culture, give yourself permission to move on. The circumstances don’t have to be egregious to everyone, only to you. Ethics are personal. Quitting doesn’t mean you’re weak; it means you’re strong.

“If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.”  — attributed to both Alexander Hamilton and Malcolm X

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” — Gandhi

Have you had to overcome a breach of your values at work? Comment here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author. This column includes excerpts from the author’s book, Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others.

Are You Lonely in the Leadership Role? Study Says You’re In Good Company.

English: Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and...

Leadership can be a lonely job, but it doesn't have to be. (Wikipedia)

This month, Harvard Business Review featured a story about how lonely it is to be the CEO. The article echoed what anyone who’s been a leader or run a company knows well — it’s isolating at the top. Especially for new leaders, the issue can be surprisingly unsettling.

The authors cited survey findings that “half of CEOs report experiencing feelings of loneliness in their role, and of this group, 61 percent believe it hinders their performance. First-time CEOs are particularly susceptible to this isolation. Nearly 70 percent of first-time CEOs who experience loneliness report that the feelings negatively affect their performance.”

Your first reaction may be: cry me a river.

Corporate CEO behavior and lavish salaries haven’t exactly instilled empathy. Should we care if billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos aren’t reaching the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?

I would argue, any leader’s isolation has negative ramifications on others. And it’s not just CEOs who experience this kind of loneliness — it’s team managers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders too. In fact, anyone who finds themselves peerless can feel isolated. This isn’t good for decision-making, culture, or performance.

The best leaders have confidantes who can give it to them straight, speak truth to power, and keep them in the know. Stanford management professor Robert Sutton warned against the “toxic tandem” of leadership, where those in charge become more self-absorbed and less attuned to others’ perspectives precisely when they need outside information the most.

Many times those in leadership positions don’t feel they have a right to experience loneliness. After all, they worked hard to land their coveted position. But it’s a near universal human response to experience times of isolation in a leadership role. As I discussed in The Power of Presence, relatedness is extremely important to our well-being and effectiveness. Neuroscientist researcher David Rock has shown that it’s “hardwired” with biochemical roots.

Because the leader’s actions reverberate, one person’s isolation becomes a larger problem when it leads to poor decision-making, negativity, fatigue and frustration. And who wants to work for an unhappy person?

If you’re in a leadership role, you can guard against being isolated by making connection a priority. Don’t feel bad about it; view it as a necessity.

1. Find a peer group. When I was a first-time CEO, I really struggled to find equilibrium. Eventually I joined Vistage International, which is a CEO professional development organization with chapters around the country. Every month, I was able to discuss confidential issues with 15 other leaders battling similar circumstances. It had a significant impact on my business and my well-being.

For new entrepreneurs, I’m a fan of The Founder Institute, of which I’m a mentor. Members build camaraderie with fellow start-up entrepreneurs, and learn valuable skills to launch a business. Many times, business owners don’t even know fellow entrepreneurs before they join. Having that kind of network helps you learn from each other’s progress and roadblocks.

2. Form a personal board of advisors. CEOs routinely put together a board of advisors, which is helpful from a business standpoint. However, you may still need to be “on” with that group. Instead, look for those with whom you can speak openly and form your own informal advisory group. These can be peers in different divisions, or similar companies, or even retired industry professionals. You may even be able to tap into the advice of a trusted colleague who reports to you. The point is to have 4-5 people you can go to regularly to bounce around ideas, discuss fears and challenges, and gain perspective.

3. Get a coach or a mentor. Of course, as a coach, I have a strong bias for the value of working with a leadership coach. In defense of this point, I worked with a coach for years before I became one. One of the reasons a coach is helpful is because he or she can discuss issues with no vested interest in the client’s decision — unlike nearly everyone else in their life. A good coach helps you see blind spots and get underneath issues, not just attack them at the surface.

That said, a coach isn’t for everyone. Often, you can find a mentor who serves the same function in an unpaid relationship. Finding a leader with past experience relevant to yours, who is motivated to be your mentor, can be a big advantage. That person knows how hard it is to be in your shoes because they were there once. Perhaps it’s why they’ll jump in to help you now.

Do you ever experience loneliness in your leadership role? What do you do about it? Comment here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. This post also appears on Forbes.com.

Can Ugly People Have Presence?

Do Brad Pitt-caliber looks equal presence? There's more to the story. (Image via Wikipedia.)

That’s the question I was asked recently during an interview on the Cranky Middle Manager show.

The host, Wayne Turmel, wasn’t just trying to be cheeky, he was saying what many people think: leadership presence comes from innate qualities.

Of course, as someone who has worked with all types of people to develop a stronger presence, I patently disagree.

But he did get me thinking.

While leadership presence has become an undisputed core competency in companies—a friend at a global recruiting powerhouse recently shared that it’s #2 on their evaluation scorecard for candidates—there’s still much confusion about what it is and how to get it.

And there’s a little voice inside many of us listing reasons why we’re at a disadvantage to possess such a powerful and inspiring quality.

We’re not attractive enough. Or, more rarely, so good looking that we’re not taken seriously.

We’re too young. Or too old.

We’re female, a minority, or from another culture.

We’re too short, or overweight, or an introvert.

See where this leads? If you take out all of the so-called innate disqualifiers to having an engaging presence, you’re only left with a tall 43.5 year old white guy with average weight and decent good looks. Which isn’t most of us.

Yes, there is scads of research out there about how certain groups are perceived with a negative bias. For a hilarious riff on the advantages of attractiveness (and who on earth gets to be the omnipotent judge), check out this clip from The Daily Show with John Stewart.

But when it comes to who inspires and influences us, the research doesn’t tidily add up.

Let’s take the attractiveness point. Study after study has shown that people deemed more attractive are perceived more favorably—especially when it comes to first impressions or job interviews. (If you’re into attractiveness studies, this Hofstra paper on attractiveness bias in hiring is a good overview.)

However, that doesn’t equate to influence, which is about impressions made over time. And we’ve all experienced how our perceptions of someone change as we get to know them.

Not to be unkind, and with risk of speaking as one of those omnipotent judges — but in general, Fortune 500 CEOs aren’t going to show up on America’s Top Model any time soon. Nor are political leaders. (Paul Begala famously called Washington the “Hollywood for ugly people.”) If you lined up our business and civic leaders, in terms of looks they resemble the majority of society: average. People aren’t inspired by attractiveness. We’re inspired by a complex mix of interpersonal traits and authentic connection. We’re influenced by other people’s passion, fortitude, empathy, and humanity. We’re drawn in by their listening ability, trustworthiness, confidence, and care for a greater good. For your own example, write down five people who’ve influenced your life. Any super attractive people on the list? Those with magnetic charisma? Perfect physiques?

I’ve had people in my life fitting every shape, color and type who’ve demonstrated compelling attractor energy, and have inspired me to be and do more. Bet you have too.

There’s no doubt that your presence is directly related to success. When we try to dismiss it as a biological factor, we’re doing ourselves a huge disservice. It’s a way of throwing up our hands and not trying. One more for the too hard pile.

Presence is the ability to connect with and inspire others.

It’s not about towering over others in the room, or having the perfect look. It doesn’t require some inborn preternatural charisma or uncanny photographic ability.

Presence is an equal opportunity trait.

It’s developed—and shared—from the inside out. And not the other way around.

If you want a stronger presence, you simply have to work on it. And the good news is, you can.

Share your comments here or @kristihedges. More on how to work on your own presence in this CNBC article.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. This post also appears on Forbes.com.

Five Styles of GenX Leaders: Which One Are You?

DAVOS-KLOSTERS/SWITZERLAND, 30JAN09 - Mark Zuc...

The casualness of Mark Zuckerberg not your thing, GenX? There are plenty of other ways to be a connected leader.

Leaders aren’t what they used to be, and that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t make it any easier for leaders today to find their style and niche. In fact, it’s harder.

Let me start by saying that I’m a Generation Xer. (Thank you Douglas Coupland for naming us so ambiguously.) En masse we are rising to the top positions of companies, with the power to leave our imprint and legacy. We’re already shaping work policies with broader definitions of career tracks, entrepreneurial mindsets, and work-life balance expectations, to name a few. A recent, widely publicized, study examining Gen Xers found that while we may have started as introspective slackers, we’re generally happy, value hard work, and actively participate in a variety of communities. We live full lives and expect them to be multidimensional.

Our views of leadership are clearly shaped by our experiences.

We entered the workforce in a recession, with no expectation of anything except the ability to prove ourselves through hard work and to repay our student loans. Our pop culture models of leadership were hard-charging, no-excuses, all-in kinds of (mostly) men. This proved to be fairly accurate in real life. In the early 90s hard work reigned supreme, dues were paid, and personal lives were kept separate. For women, many of our predecessors who had made it to leadership roles seemed hardened by the time they got there, and didn’t seem all that happy to see us nipping at their heels. We got together after work and took comfort with the refrain that at least we had jobs. (Note the aforementioned student loans as well as scores of underemployed friends.)

Fast forward, and much has changed since those formative work years. The aspirational prototype of a leadership has gone from work-obsessed to empathetic.  The need for leaders to collaborate, be inclusive, and communicate openly is a foregone conclusion. We’ve become a global, connected society which values adapting to change and innovation. And often we Xers are the bridge between the Boomers and the Millennials, trying to find our own unique leadership style that’s part the success-driven one that we’ve seen, and part the empathetic one the Millennials expect.

It can be a struggle. We may buy into the empathetic leader idea, but we’re not ready to double down on it. We’ve seen different styles achieve results, and it needs to feel authentic to us.

Skills such as listening, collaboration, communication and supportiveness are wonderful human traits that we should all aspire to. However, over steer on one trait and it quickly feels forced and ineffective.  Underneath it all, the heart of empathetic leadership is acknowledgement and understanding. We want to know our leaders have our backs.

Luckily, and notwithstanding many DIY management books, there are many ways to be a leader who wins hearts and minds, without resorting to group hugs. (Or you can, if that’s your thing. No judgment.) You don’t have to match the dorm-room casualness of Mark Zuckerberg, the incisiveness of Meg Whitman, or the inspirational appeal of Steve Jobs.

Consider these types of empathetic leadership styles and see which one feels right to you.

The Coach: Shows empathy by a mixture of tough love and strong support. Not afraid to push you because they see the best in you. Has a good sense of what’s going on in the rest of your life and isn’t afraid to mention it as it relates to your performance and potential.

The Mentor: Makes you feel that your success is always top of mind, and they have your back to guide you along in your career. Will act as a confidante as you hash through ideas and won’t hold it against you as you iterate. Has done well and operates from a point of helping others do the same.

The Truth Teller: Believes that you treat employees as adults and free agents who have a right to hear it straight. Doesn’t sugar coat as a matter of principle, and can be counted on to let you know what you’re doing well and where you can improve. You always know where you stand.

The Buddy: Eschews hierarchy as a structural imperative. Seeks to be considered a colleague first and foremost and as someone who stays in the trenches to keep a bead on their team. Operates from the idea that we’re all in it together. Frequently socializes with the team and can easily approach others with feedback as part of daily interactions.

The Relater: Has an intuitive ability to grasp the emotions of others. Whether from personal experience or keen observational skills, they tap into the hopes and fears of those around them and relate what they see to their own experience. They are self-revealing through shared stories. Even if you don’t know them personally, you feel that they get you in the abstract, and you know what they’re about.

Perhaps one of these examples felt most right to you, or a mixture, or none of them. It’s all okay, the point is that you don’t have to conform to any one mold of leadership, but instead focus on the outcome — making sure your team knows you’re both in front of them and behind them. There are many ways to be empathetic, and our experiences provide fertile ground to pick and choose what feels right to us.

That’s the beauty of “X”: it can mean anything we want it to mean.

Thoughts on GenX leadership? Comment here or @kristihedges.

This column also appears on Forbes.com.

What To Do When Someone’s Out To Get You At Work

Managing Toxic Colleagues (Image by photostock)

It can come out of nowhere. There you are, minding your business at work, trying to do a good job, when a colleague undermines you. It could be a shot across the bow from a new competitor or a conniving, malicious act from an old friend. It hurts, and it can hurt your career.

We know that politicking and backstabbing exists in the workplace. Many times these situations exist because corporations are set up to be extremely competitive, with fewer seats the further you move toward the top. Functional heads are frequently pitted against one another in a sort of psychic and physical endurance test to see who gets promoted.

It’s no surprise that relationships between people who need each other to get things done can turn toxic when it feels like a zero-sum game. (Ironically, teamwork is one of the key skills required for promotion, but I digress.)

I can say, as a coach, that the culprit is often poor communication or misunderstanding, but not always. Not to get too woo woo on you, but as the inspirational author Marianne Williamson writes, all actions come from a place of fear or love. You can guess where territorialism, gossip, or backstabbing comes from.

The question is, what do you do about it?

Your instinct may be to keep your head down, do good work, and hope the powers that be will see the truth in time. Or your approach may be to take on your saboteur directly, and match fire with fire.

I’m going to offer a third option — a road less travelled but worth the trip. Approach the situation as an opportunity to build trust instead. You’ll strengthen your presence and influence in the process.

I realize this is a leap when the situation may exist because trust has been destroyed. But consider that the absence of trust with a co-worker creates an incredibly unhappy, stressful, and untenable environment for a person. You end up constantly on guard, with your adrenaline pumping to the fight or flight responders  in your brain, leaving your best intellectual power untapped and unavailable.

Finding a beneficent solution is both a selfless and a selfish act.

You may never be able to singlehandedly morph a relationship, but you can do your part. Instead of cowering or attacking, try these ideas instead:

  • Seek to understand. Make it a mission to learn about your colleague’s motivations. The more you know about what makes him tick, the more context you’ll have for his behavior. We naturally stay away from those who threaten us, but the adage “know your enemy” has circulated since Sun Tzu wrote it in The Art of War thousands of years ago. The more understanding we have, the broader our perceptions and our options.
  • Validate your perceptions. Take the initiative to vet your assumptions with the other person. This is not meant as an attack, but a level setting. Share your observations in a nonthreatening way. Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements. For example: “I’m picking up on some tension. I’d like for us to find a way for us to work better together. What can I do to make this work?” Even if the person denies or stonewalls, you’ll learn more than you knew going in.
  • Change the dynamic. Relationships either move in an upward spiral or a downward one. You can change the directional dynamic by taking a surprising tack: be openly supportive of the other person. Back her up in a meeting or call out her excellent performance. Talk up her project to others. Be genuine! Offer sincere compliments, not flattery.
  • Encourage regular interaction. More than one workplace feud has been resolved during a lengthy business trip. Unless you’re dealing with a sociopath, chances are commonality exists between you as well — if you can find it. Look for ways to work together one-on-one to expand the impressions you have of each other. This may start by initiating a “how can we help each other” meeting.
  • Take accountability. If you find your way to an honest dialogue, own up to your part in impairing the relationship. Think of what you’ve contributed and take accountability — don’t defend your actions as a reaction to his.
  • Keep talking. As Susan Scott put it so well in Fierce Conversations, “The conversation is the relationship.” Many a divorce, business partnership, or professional relationship has frayed from the silent treatment. When you bother to talk, it shows you care.

 

This post also appears on Forbes.com.

Part of this column has been excerpted from Kristi’s book, Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others.

What Does and Doesn’t Inspire Others (No sound bites required)

Mitt Romney takes his shot at inspiring

It’s that time of year again: the air is crisp, leaves are falling, and political candidates are arguing. Even as we just left the polls this Tuesday, we’re really preparing for the Big One, as this is the oh-so-lucky year before the presidential race. We get twelve more months of this, so gear up!

Of course, unless you’re a political consultant, you’re probably not too excited about listening to the candidates (and their ads) for months on end. Most political leaders — like their corporate counterparts — simply aren’t inspiring. We’re not even sure they believe what they’re saying.

And boy do we need some inspiration about now. The Harvard Business Review recently featured a downright depressing blog post on America’s pull toward mediocrity. The worst part was that we’ve heard this message before, and it’s a widely accepted viewpoint. We don’t even have the energy for outrage. (Especially since it was a major theme in the last presidential campaign with little progress.)

Inspirational leaders seem to be able to ignite a magical light in others, both a call to action and a breath of optimism. We need it in government, our community, and in business. One could easily argue that being able to inspire others is the leader’s job. A leader can never manage, direct or cajole enough to achieve great success, but must inspire self-motivation.

Especially in times of uncertainty, authenticity is paramount and palpable. You can’t phone in inspiration. To inspire a feeling in others you must have it in you first. It is impossible to get others excited if you are burnt-out or unsure. Nor can you get others to take something seriously if you don’t think it’s a big deal yourself. But if you believe down to your soul, and demonstrate the actions to back it up, doors will fly open.

If you’re looking to hone your inspirational skills, try these practices of great leaders:

  • Get intentional about your actions, and the desired reaction.

Inspiring leaders aren’t accidental, they work at it. In fact, every great leader I’ve ever worked with has believed that inspiring others is a craft that needs to be constantly honed. Inspiring leaders are intentional about what they want to communicate AND what emotion they want to impart. They have an acute ability to bottom line a situation and communicate straight to that objective.

  • Be self-aware and authentic.

Motivational leaders have a keen sense of how they are perceived by others. They pay attention to their own body language to make sure their intent is clear. Many actively seek out advice in order to constantly improve on their skills. Finally, they don’t try to be someone they aren’t. They know who they are, and what personal characteristics  draw others to them. They try to be more of themselves, rather than more of someone else.

  • Relate on an individual level.

We are drawn to people as individuals, not as concepts such as business owner or boss. Great leaders take the time to really know others – whether customers, employees, partners or friends – in order to foster strong individual relationships. They are the ones who remember your kids’ names and ask about your weekend softball league. Even when talking to large groups, they make a connection based on shared interests and set a tone of commonality.

  • Be open to viewpoints and listen attentively.

Listening is a gift that you give to others, and takes very little to do. Yet most leaders do too much talking and not nearly enough listening. Inspiring leaders make people feel heard – whether or not they agree with them. They give people the courtesy of their full attention. They don’t make you compete with their Blackberries or scan the networking event while you are talking.

  • Share your failures and struggles as leveraged experiences.

Business leaders often feel the pressure to be perfect – to be stoic, have the right answers, and hide weakness. However, we’re drawn to each others’ weaknesses – it’s what makes us human. Back to the election, we look at candidate’s backgrounds to find what they are made of – where they have struggled and overcome. The same is true of business leaders. Inspiring leaders don’t hide their failures; they admit them and use them as learning experiences. They share struggles openly when it makes sense to leverage them for moving the company forward. They aim not to be on a pedestal, but on common ground.

  • Learn to be a story teller.

People are overloaded with data and rarely retain it. What we do remember are stories. Humans are story tellers by nature, and use them to create understanding for ourselves. Stories transport us and form a connection that is lasting. Great leaders share their stories openly to make their points come alive and to motivate others.

Heads Up: Cautionary Tales Coming Your Way

In the next year, there will be ample opportunities to learn from the mistakes of others about what doesn’t inspire (and hopefully a few that can demonstrate what does.). View it all through your leadership lens. When someone inspires or motivates you, think about what caused it. How did they affect you? What made you remember them? How can you apply that learning to a pressing business issue you have?

Never forgot that your team wants — even hopes — to be inspired. By you.

Herein lies a leader’s great challenge and greatest possibility.

This post also appears on Forbes.com.

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