By Ekaterina Walter – Forbes
There are very few great managers. And even fewer great leaders. Making your team happy by displaying behaviors that are expected from you as a manager is hard. But it is even harder to inspire people to follow you, especially if you don’t have direct authority over them.
Leaders are not always perfect. And, sometimes, they are downright quirky. But they display a set of behaviors that make them admired and loved. Let’s look at some of the rare ones.
Play Devil’s Advocate
Have you ever seen a leader who continuously pushes you to look deeper and challenges status quo by regularly and passionately taking the other side of the argument, even if s(he) agrees with your point of view? My guess is your answer is no. Playing devil’s advocate and ferociously challenging your assumptions works well in scientific experiments, but we rarely see it in business.
Great leaders play the game of 10 “why?”s, asking the question over and over again to test their understanding of the underlying strategy. They defend the opposite point of view just to explore what else their teams forgot to uncover that may be critical to their mission or a project.
It is easy to think that we are right, it soothes our egos. But it takes courage to stand up to and challenge your own experiences, knowledge, ideas.
Take the blame
If there is a blame to be had, great leaders take it on. If there is a credit to be given, they give it away to others. Granted, it’s a very rare behavior, but the one that truly creates a following. Exceptional leaders protect their teams and they are humble when it comes to owning up to the accomplishments.
Couldn’t care less about conventional wisdom
The more you say “it’s never been done” before, the more excited they get about changing that fact. And they build the teams around them that never take no for an answer. It’s hard to manage a team of rebels, but that’s exactly what’s needed to change the norm, to challenge the old, and invent the new.
And they don’t care about the failures, because they know that the only thing that matters is their response to those failures. Failures teach. Circumstances change. Pioneers stumble while shaping the path for others. And that’s okay.
Have you ever been in a meeting when the most senior executive in the room have not spoken a word during the whole meeting? And I don’t mean because (s)he would be on a laptop or a mobile phone doing email. No, rather sitting in the room intently listening to the very important strategic discussion. No? Well, I have. And I have to tell you – it is both a little creepy and awe-inspiring at the same time.
Malcom Forbes once said: “The art of conversation lies in listening.” Some of the best leaders make it a point to not have their opinions heard right off the bat, but rather sit back and truly listen to what their teams have to say, maybe occasionally asking a question or two. You can get some amazing insights and inspire some great ideas just by sitting there and not contradicting (or agreeing, for that matter) with the opinions of others. Those leaders tell me that it is very hard to do, but tremendously rewarding to exercise this every now and then.
Intentionally seek diversity
We’ve all seen managers surround themselves with “yes” people. We’ve all seen favoritism in our careers – after all, it is human nature to like those that look/speak/dress like us. But exceptional leaders go outside of their comfort zones in recruiting their teams, they intentionally seek diversity of opinions/ages/genders/perspectives/experiences. They don’t want to build an army of “yes” men and women, they want to innovate and evolve. And one can’t do that without the benefits of diversity.
George S. Patton said, “If everyone is thinking the same, then someone isn’t thinking.” That’s something true leaders try to avoid by building and developing diverse teams.
Great leaders are also great innovators. And they know that curiosity and naiveté are critical conditions of innovation. They are humble enough to accept if they don’t know something and smart enough to constantly learn throughout their career.
But they are also sharp enough to know that times change and that no one person can know everything. They ask “why?” and “why not?” constantly, and are always open to reverse mentorship with younger generations realizing that there are some things younger professionals are just smarter about.
Understanding how critical it is to sometimes disconnect and reflect, extraordinary leaders will disappear for a while. They will do something else, change their routine, and learn something absolutely new outside of their professional interests. They are masters of creating white space in which creativity thrives. Not only that, they are masters of knowing their limits and when their energy levels need recharging to continue to operate successfully long-term.
What are the rare behaviors you see remarkable leaders display?