What Good Leaders Know

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I went back to college. Not to wax nostalgic… although I did feel the pangs of age pretty acutely. I braved cold and rainy weather in Providence, Rhode Island (as no native Miamian is ever prepared to do, especially in summer) because I was asked to deliver a presentation on “Energy Leadership” to IE Brown Executive MBA students. The course’s premise was this: If you can master yourself…your own reactions, your communication style and your sense of overwhelm, you can then successfully inspire and empower others. This is the kind of stuff I never learned in business school… and yet these “soft” skills practically predicted whether I experienced success or failure in my business endeavors throughout my career.


When I became a business coach, I recognized the same phenomenon with my clients; those who made conscious choices about how they “showed up” every day were far more successful.  Simply put, they were better leaders. Leadership is the ability to move yourself and others into action.  In that regard, leadership is not a special privilege reserved for C-level executives with the corner office who manage employees.  When you motivate your kids to do their homework, you are leading; when you negotiate the purchase of a car, you are leading; when you get out of a bad relationship, you are leading; when you ask for a promotion, you are leading.

The question is not whether we lead– because we all do; it’s how well we lead. A leader is not a matter of position of good genetics. Rather, a leader is someone who recognizes the power of a positive attitude in motivating him/herself and others. Communication is the expression of energy and possibly the most important skill a leader of any kind can master. Think about the last time you argued with someone. It’s very likely, you said or heard something like: “You’re not listening…You just don’t understand.”

Gallup conducted approximately 10 million employee and manager interviews in 114 countries in 41 different languages to determine “The 12 elements of great managing.” Their findings transcended culture, language and geography.  Of the 12 elements, half of them were related to communication! They included:

      • I know what’s expected of me.
      • I have received praise in the last 7 days.
      • My supervisor cares about me as a person.
      • Someone at work encourages my development.
      • My opinions seem to count.
      • In the last six months, someone has talked to me about my progress.

I’m convinced that if the study had been entitled: “The 12 elements of great parenting or great partnering,” the results would be the same. That’s because at the crux of good communication is the fundamental belief that everyone…absolutely everyone…has a desperate need to be heard, understood and recognized. Stephen Covey said: “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.”

I’m always baffled by the term “soft” used to describe a skill as important as this one. You can outsource finance, marketing, legal and housework too… but no one can authentically communicate for you. That skill is actually quite hard.