Image by Flickr user Michael Rawle

10 Under Appreciated Leadership Qualities

Recently I was in line at a coffee shop when I overheard a conversation between a flustered barista and their supervisor. What struck me about the conversation was how the supervisor’s positive attitude affected the barista. I watched as the barista relaxed their posture and changed their demeanor, as if to reset themselves.

That relatively unremarkable scene was enough to motivate a tweet:

That got me thinking about all other under appreciated leadership qualities — ones that don’t have books or blogs written about them . I’ve been very fortunate to have had incredible leaders in my life, so it wasn’t hard to come up with a list. I tweeted them one at a time, but thought I’d expand on them in a longer post.

So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here are 10 under appreciated leadership qualities…

“We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude […] I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” — Chuck Swindoll

Like I already mentioned, it’s amazing to witness the power a leader’s attitude has on those they’re leading. Chuck Swindoll said — or maybe he was quoting someone else — that life is 1% what happens to you and 99% how you respond (full quote below). That sums up attitude to me. Beyond just mere positivity (which is another under appreciated quality entirely), attitude has to do with how a person reacts to situations beyond their control. Leaders who respond well — that is, when they recognize they can only truly control one thing: their attitude — are aces in my book.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” — Stephen Covey

There’s a reason Barbara Walters, Larry King, and Oprah have a reputation for being the best interviewers in the game: they’re incredible listeners. Sure they construct and deliver questions with unmatched poise and skill, but it’s because they’re easy to talk to — because they allow the interviewee to talk without being interrupted, fed, led, manipulated, or coerced — that they’re able to get even the stoniest of celebrities to open up.

Think about it. Is there anything more enabling than when a leader gives you the opportunity to speak your mind about something? It’s refreshing. It’s like a vote of confidence; reinforcing, and motivating. It makes you feel like a million bucks.

I’m convinced leaders who develop a habit of thanking those they lead — recognizing sacrifice, effort, and thought — benefit even more than the recipient. Studies have even shown a lifestyle of gratitude can positively influence physical and mental health. The simple act of saying “thank you”, especially when it’s from a place of sincerity and authenticity, can act like oil to a machine — all parts.

“A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.” —William James

Leadership is serious business. I mean, there’s a lot of responsibility, duty, and diligence involved. If you screw up, it’s not just your head on the line, the effects could trickle down to God knows how many others. It’s no laughing matter.

But actually, that’s all the more reason it is important to keep a good perspective and embrace a sense of humor. In fact, some of the leaders I respect most are also the funniest people I know — many times because they’re not afraid of making fun of themselves or their mistakes.

“The medium is the message.” — Marshall McLuhan

Tact often goes unrecognized as a leadership trait, which I think is tragic. When a leader shows they are aware of others’ sensitivities, it can make all the difference. Nowhere is this more on display than in a conflict. If this sounds like experiential advice, it is. I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of both poor and great tact. How and when a leader tackles difficult discussion topics is so important, and I’m surprised there doesn’t exist more practical advice on this subject.

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” — Harry S. Truman

I think most of the time we think of generosity having to do with tangible things like money or material possessions. Or, if we’re really insightful maybe we understand you can be generous with time. But the times I’ve noticed peculiar (and inspiring) generosity from leaders is when I’ve seen the sharing of other intangibles… like the spotlight. Or the credit. Or the responsibility.

We’ve all experienced the odd dichotomy of social groupings. We’ve either been the one on the outside, the last one picked for the team, uninvited to the meeting. Or we’ve experienced the thrill of having been called over to the conversation, noticed in the back of the room, acknowledged and validated.

I hope, if you’re a leader, you err on making the latter a common practice. Including people is easy, and is rarely ever regretted.

In today’s society we demand convenience (“what do you mean, you can’t?”), and are conditioned to not have to wait (waiting means something’s wrong). That’s why counter-culture characteristics, like patience, stand out to me.

Two different kinds of patience: the kind where you demonstrate grace when expectations aren’t met; the kind where you remain collected while waiting for something. Both are virtuous. Both are under appreciated.

Like tact, discretion is a diligent sensitivity towards all the elements of a situation. What makes discretion such a desirable quality in a leader, in my opinion, is that it deals directly with trust. When I think of discretion, I like to think of the word picture of someone giving instructions to an assistant or employee, trusting them with sensitive information, and knowing that it will be handled in the same way they themselves would. But going the opposite direction, a leader who exhibits discretion is one who, regardless of rank or title, respects the confidentiality, privacy, and boundaries of others — even those they lead.

People naturally gravitate towards those who exude positivity. It’s attractive, inspiring, and contagious. Plus, and I’m just guessing here, I bet leaders who are genuinely positive have to work less at compensating for weaknesses or lack. Being positive has the effect of lightening the load and, as mentioned previously, it can disarm tension in the most difficult of situations.

Obviously, these qualities aren’t limited to the role of leadership. Anyone can and should work on developing these things. But it’s hard to deny how inspiring and refreshing it is when these are exhibited from leaders.

If there’s a leader in your life who you’ve seen demonstrate one or more of these qualities, consider telling them; thanking them. I’m sure it would mean a lot, and motivate even more under appreciated qualities.



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