Sunday, August 7, 2011

What makes a great leader?

By Betsy Johnson
VP of Communications & former Co-President, NWPC LA Westside

I recently completed a 10-month leadership program with the Southern California Leadership Network and in one of our forums (this one happened to be during a joint lobbying effort with the LA Chamber of Commerce in Sacramento), one of our guest speakers summed it up like this.  Two characteristics of a great leader are 1.)  fierce determination and 2.) tremendous humility.  Wow, I thought, it’s really that simple?   Ok, I have the determination, even the passion but I think we can all agree that as we climb that political, corporate, social or whatever kind of ladder you might be climbing these days, that humility can be challenging.  Whether you hold a title as a CEO or Chief Bottle Washer, titles can mean egos and frankly egos and humility don’t go hand in hand.

So I started thinking about the leaders I know, have interacted with or generally come across my radar as being “great”.  And you know what?  Those that truly are in the upper echelon of greatness do have tremendous humility, or at least that’s what it appears on the surface.   Regardless, either they have really great PR folks or they truly check their egos at the door.  It’s not enough to have passion, determination and want to make the world a better place.  The true test is doing it for the right reasons regardless of what title or office it brings.  I look at some up-and-coming leaders around me and I already see those that can put the ego aside and join us all in the trenches and get the job done, and I see those that can’t.  Whether male or female, it makes no difference (although we like to think it’s always the men that have this problem).

In a world of political and corporate scandals that seem to break regularly, sometimes that power can bring about a sense of entitlement (ok, don’t get me started on this one) and “I’m above it all” mentality.  But, really, where did some of these folks go wrong?  Did they start out as “great” and lose it somewhere along the way?  Did they get caught up in the hype of the job, position, celebrity or otherwise?  We’re not doing to taint everyone with the same brush but you get what I’m saying.

I’m actually going to add a third point to being a great leader, and I know you’ve heard this one before.  3.)  Don’t take yourself too seriously.  At the end of the day, we’re all human, we all screw up and being able to laugh about it (and at yourself) is really important.  I think a great leader needs to recognize that.

So I challenge you as leaders (all in your old rite) to keep these three important points in mind as you journey on your path to greatness.  Let’s help each other, encourage each other & don’t be afraid to have that conversation with someone you care about if you see them slipping behind or taking a side street.  No one’s perfect but everyone needs a guide, mentor or friend who can help along the way.  And let’s not forget to smile, laugh and have fun.   After all, isn’t it all about the journey anyway?

If you want to know more about the Southern California Leadership Network (honestly, this really wasn’t a plug but what the heck), visit Programs include Leadership L.A., Leadership Southern CA (I just graduated with the Class of 2011) and now California Connections, a statewide leadership program.   It truly is a fantastic organization with amazing leadership programs.  Tell them Betsy sent you.

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