August 5th is the opening of the 31st modern Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. More than 10,000 athletes from 206 countries will compete in 42 different sports, and for many of them, it will be the penultimate event of their athletic careers. The Olympic Games marks the culmination of years of hard work for the competitors, all in preparation for a singular opportunity to win a gold medal.
Of course there isn’t a “leadership” event in the Olympics, but if there were, I think there are four essential traits, qualities, or characteristics that leaders would need to master in order to have a shot at the gold.
1. Be a trust-builder – Leadership is about relationships, and all successful relationships have one thing in common: a foundation of trust. The ability to build high-trust relationships is the most important leadership competency in the 21st century. Our fast paced, highly networked world requires leaders to build effective relationships across time zones, countries, cultures, organizations, and stakeholders. With trust a leader has a chance. Without it they’re doomed.
2. Have a high EQ – In the old days we use to say that someone had “good people skills,” meaning they had an ability to understand people and get along well with them. Today we’ve expanded and rebranded that concept under “emotional intelligence (EQ)” which means you have a high degree of self-awareness (your motivations, beliefs, attitudes, and behavioral patterns), are able to regulate those behaviors to meet the needs of the situation, and that you are also able to perceive and understand the behavioral needs and patterns of those you lead. That’s a tall order, but it’s a critical skill for leaders if they want to be successful in managing themselves and others.
3. Be a change agent – The only constant in today’s world is change. Technology has changed the speed at which we work, and gold medal winning leaders know they have to be the ones leading organizational change. Leaders can’t afford to be caught snoozing on the sidelines when it comes to change. They need to have their finger in the air to detect changing wind conditions and then be able to respond by getting their teams on course to meet the needs of the business.
4. Be other-focused – The most successful leaders have learned that it’s not about them; it’s about the people they lead. Gold medal leaders have discovered that they succeed when their people succeed, and in order for that to happen, leaders have to recruit and hire the right folks, train them, equip them with the proper resources, and then get out of their way. That doesn’t mean there aren’t times when a command and control leadership style may be needed (you don’t form a committee to formulate recommendations on how to evacuate a burning building; you point people to the exits and tell them to get out!), but it means that people thrive on having a sense of autonomy in their work and a leader’s job is to make that happen.
If I were to equate leadership to an existing Olympic sport, I would have to say it’s like the marathon. The marathon requires stamina, endurance, dedication, and mental fortitude to finish the race, and you have to pace yourself over a great distance and time period, not just for brief intervals. Focusing on these four keys will help leaders run the marathon – go the distance – and have a good shot at winning the gold.
I’m sure you can think of many other keys that define a gold medal winner in Leadership. Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment.