There are three things I’ve looked for in a leader, as well as three things I’ve aimed for myself.
Confidence. Trust. Empathy.
Some come naturally for me while others may be an ongoing journey of self-discovery. These are never meant to be steps of a process or boxes to tick off a list. They exemplify what I value most in any working relationship: respect, communication, and honesty.
Confidence isn’t just how one walks into a room or commands an audience. Anyone can put on a show. Confidence, earned confidence, comes from having the knowledge, wisdom, and the skills (and acknowledging the skills you don’t have) that justifies how you walk into a room or command an audience. You’ve earned your station. It’s about time you recognize it!
There is also the confidence in knowing what your goals are and conveying that to your team. If a leader has that confidence then trust and respect from others will come naturally.
But trust is a two-way street. You may have earned that trust to get you where you are, but leadership also means to trust those who report into you. The reality of being a leader is that you won’t know everything — you can’t know everything. Be honest and know your limits, and trust the strengths of your team members. That trust builds confidence within the team, encouraging and inspiring them to better both their productivity and their own leadership skills.
After all, the goal of every leader should be to foster leaders from within, and that starts by trusting their abilities to do the good work they were hired to do, and trusting their input, even if it counters your own. Often those conflicts of opinion lead to an open discussion further showing trust in your team and earning respect.
While we are all cogs in a machine, we are also all human. Understanding and relating with those you work goes a long way in cementing your role as a leader and as a respected team member.
In my experience, I’ve gotten a more positive and productive response when I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable and honest or encouraged others to be the same, whether I’m talking to a higher-up or a more junior team member. If I have the trust and confidence I spoke of earlier, then being vulnerable won’t diminish my abilities to do my job as a leader. Seeing the face behind the title creates an open and respectful relationship – one where people would want to follow, rather than feel forced to follow.