My boys are growing up too fast. I have seen them grow and excel in so many different parts of their lives – sports, academics, work, community, etc. – and, as they are becoming young men, I was thinking about what will be important in their lives – what will make them strong? In answering this question, I was thinking about people I admire and have had the privilege to work with in the past. And in being of a very "structured" mind, I drafted a simple framework summarizing the key characteristics which I have observed and I believe need to work together to be strong. The six major characteristics are summarized below:
Let's review each component in more detail:
Purpose Driven: Strong leaders have an incredible sense of purpose. They follow their dreams but also set goals, objectives and have an unwavering focus on achieving them. They also understand that purpose connects to developing beliefs, valuing traditions, culture and diversity, which allows them to continuously develop a point of view, be grounded and humbly be proud about who they are.
Character Development: Foremost, all those exceptional leaders continuously demonstrate authenticity in everything they do. Through honesty, a true sense of fairness and positive intent, they rarely fake it or think about personal gain or political agendas. Through unwavering integrity, they keep an open mind, are caring, respectful and trustworthy. They never sacrifice character and are not afraid to take the harder path or the road less-traveled.
Achieving Competence: Great leaders know that competence is non-negotiable. They continuously focus on developing their capabilities by investing in developing unique skills, expertise and specialized knowledge. For them continuous learning is in their DNA. They share their knowledge whenever possible. They also emphasize the demonstration of results – through a determined focus on performance and excellence. Simply, great leaders have a reputation for achievement and accomplishments.
Nurturing Flexibility: A critical success component for exceptional leaders is their overall level of comfort with change. They are highly adaptable to different situations, they don't resist change and they are simply comfortable with ambiguity, adversity and uncertainty. More importantly, they embrace innovation and nurture curiosity, creativity and thinking outside the box. They are not afraid to dissent or challenge the status quo when necessary.
Leadership Development: Strong leadership capabilities are a key area of continuous development for these leaders. By always improving, they enable greater teamwork – through an ability to listen and to motivate as well as by creating a vision and path forward. They are also able to resolve conflict constructively. In addition, they inspire conviction by strong and consistent sense and decision making combined with setting clear directions.
Balanced Well-Being: Lastly, these leaders are simply balanced in their lives. They are active in their communities, they maintain a strong activity level, they are interested in many different things, they lead a healthy lifestyle – and they just have an incredible amount of fun. They love what they do.
Several leaders, I have had the opportunity to work with over the years, were exceptional in achieving the right level of balance across each of these components and I am encouraging my boys to think about these characteristics as they continue to grow and are improving their strengths. However, I also thought a lot about my own journey and about which components I need to further focus and improve on and get better at. This framework allows me to do just that. Life is full of unexpected surprises and challenging situations, which will demand strengths from all of us.
I conclude with a fitting quote from a biography about Leonardo Da Vinci I am currently reading: "The depth and strength of a human character are defined by its moral reserves. People reveal themselves completely only when they are thrown out of the customary conditions of their life, for only then do they have to fall back on their reserves".