Leadership lessons

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What qualities define a good leader?

The vast array of characteristics is popular fodder across Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook. It seems we are curious to glean and instill these qualities or at the very least, encourage our followers to seek them.

Recently, I had a leadership view from the top of an organization serving 20,000 students, faculty and staff. It was enlightening and challenging.

During this time, I (re)affirmed the importance of three values.


“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” — James C. Humes, author and former presidential speechwriter

Across all levels, communication is one of the greatest assets we have in the workplace. It’s a gift to empower, embrace and enlighten everyone, yet we do not embrace this gift as we should.

The exchange should travel equally up and down, as well as back and forth between leadership and the team. Exchanges should be honest to ensure trust so that actions taken bring about meaningful outcomes. If communication is dishonest or fluctuates without a truly centered compass (see next value), people are left confused.

[Tweet “Be direct in leadership; lead with clear direction. Leverage communication to achieve these goals.”]

Authenticity Cloud

Photo Credit: Visual Thesaurus


There’s no better way to say this except – keep it real ya’ll. This includes everything from strategic planning to budget cuts. When prioritizing, ask if the DNA of the organization is front forward.

How will you know? Good question!

Look at your strategic core values and brand identity. If they are being upheld, bravo. Remain focused on what matters most to your target audience(s), which should align with the values and identity seamlessly.


“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence. And making it last in your absence.” —  Morgan Flatley, VP of Marketing for Gatorade

I love this leadership mindset. I credit Advertising Age for sharing Flatley’s inspiration in its Women to Watch 2014 issue. Flatley credits a Harvard Business School professor she heard at a women’s leadership forum. It is my new mantra and one that carries retrospective and introspective value.

How does this relate to humbleness? Another good question!

If you put others first, you can’t help but to remain humble – right? When others are empowered, including leadership creating the strategy along with the team executing the strategy, all are elevated. When we are all elevated, dedication thrives and the workplace becomes a family working toward a common goal.

I would love to know your thoughts on what makes a good leader, based on your own experiences.


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Helen · at

You should submit this to some leadership e-newsletters or as an op-ed to the various business journals throughout the country. It is simply-stated, on-target and authentic. Both of your leadership blogs are thoughtful and useful.

    cooldeb · at

    you are kind Helen, thank you for that support and great idea. And off to pitching I will do! I appreciate your comment.

    Elizabeth · at

    I second that, Helen. Clear, simple and useful! All of us communicate on a daily basis and the ability to understand and know how to communicate more effectively is priceless. Kudos for a great read, Debbie!

kevinshoffner · at

I agree with many parts of this. Good leaders also need some charismatic features. A good leader is one you have a hard time getting upset with, even though they don’t always make the best judgement calls (in your opinion, but I will get to that in a moment). Another important leadership is definitely about empowering others. A leader also does not always have to take the credit of a project, as this builds confidence in employees which makes them want to continue to grow and be successful. This mindset only makes the team stronger, which then reflects back to the leader(s) of the work environment.
A leader should also have a very open mindset with the other team members. Everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses. Everybody has their own opinions. When a leader takes the time to listen to the expertise of the other team members, there may be a lot of opinions which are not relevant but there is also that opportunity to get that one special piece of feedback that makes the leader say “hmm, I didn’t think about it from that angle.” Opinions are not right or wrong, and team members should not be offended if their opinion is not used. A good leader asks for opinions because they “trust” the others in the team, thus making for a stronger team, thus making strength and empowerment…
A vicious cycle of positive flow instead of a negative environment…

That’s probably more of my 0.02 cent feedback, but it’s how I look at leadership.

    cooldeb · at

    great insight and thoughts Kevin. So true on empowerment. I do believe that humbleness feeds into ‘not taking credit’ as well as team empowerment. A lovely vicious cycle indeed!

SDCJ · at

I second Helen. Very helpful information for my generation as well. I felt as though this article served as a mentor to me as I continue to grow in my career.

Thanks for enlightening. You are not only learning deeper lessons but sharing them. This is humility as well.

    cooldeb · at

    thank you SDCJ. I am glad these life lessons are cross generational. I can only add: pay it forward. : )

Kathleen Donohue · at

Interesting perspective Debbie. What I hear is a thirst for leadership that we have not experienced enough in our professional lives. It’s like a rare bird sighting; shocking, pleasant and yet wishful for more occurrences. What I wondering is the responsibility we have inside ourselves to take a leadership role in human kind when we do not hold a formal position as leader. I posted on my Linked In as well.

Chaya · at

I think you hit the main points. A leader isn’t about a position, but how others view you. To add to Kevin’s comment, before listening starts a great leader should ask the right questions. If a leader asks thought provoking questions, listens to the responses, and empowers their team by giving them the freedom for trial and error it makes for great innovation.

One of my favorite books I’m currently reading again is Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Although it’s not geared towards leaders, a leader can not be great without these simple understated qualities.

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