What makes a great leader? The answer is as varied as leaders themselves: A quick Google search of the term “leadership” turns up more than two billion articles. Amazon alone lists more than 60,000 tomes on the subject.
Great leaders have been classified as stern, empowering, intimidating, pioneering — in other words, all over the map. Is leadership a case of knowing it when you see it?
I’d argue that you know a true leader when you feel it. Leaders make us aspire for something currently out of our reach, yet make us sure we’re capable of reaching it. They don’t force us to strive; they inspire us to.
There’s a saying that a leader serves with her head, hands, and heart. I agree.
The head: Great leaders are clear in their purpose. They cut away clutter and disorder until everyone can see the path forward. They are straightforward in their decision making. Great leaders have the strength of character to understand — and do — what’s best. They leave their projects, organizations or communities in better shape than they found them. That takes an organized mind, an ability to prioritize what’s important, and the wisdom to shift gears when necessary.
The hands: Great leaders are willing to “leave their thumbprint” on a project, as Sarah Weddington once said. They are personally invested in creating success and broad-minded enough to realize that their success belongs to the people around them. Great leaders pave the way for others to shine, and they’re willing to put in the work and may have to weather criticism to do it.
The heart: Great leaders are authentic in their interest in people and their problems — their ability to emotionally connect is a superpower. They listen deeply and are intent on learning, and their willingness to find solutions flows from their empathy for other people. Selfless leaders are personally secure enough to realize that true growth, not personal accolades, is the ultimate achievement.
Ultimately, great leaders are those who communicate with their heads, their hearts, and their hands to build people up and achieve outstanding results. My hope is that we create a world where more women recognize these excellent qualities in themselves and feel empowered to follow through on their potential.