As a business leader who has run operations on six continents, and global teams from bases on three of those in my career to date, I am constantly amazed by people who ask if I would like to speak about women in leadership, or from a woman’s perspective.
Leadership has nothing to do with gender. It is about leading. Period. However, I am passionately committed to ensuring that everyone who should, and can, does get a fair chance to demonstrate their leadership capabilities and, to use their voice.
And as I enjoy another development in my working life, and I embrace the position of independent advisor and mentor to business teams, I reflected over the weekend that there is no real difference in this and my previous roles. I am still wholly responsible for the advice I give. My input is designed to help others achieve their true potential. And, bottom line, it is still all making sure people succeed in life.
So, as I have taken heart from many wise sayings over the years, I wanted to share my top five – which are not only always close to my heart, but they also shape the key traits that I believe all leaders need to have.
The first of which I picked up at an early age, when growing up on a farm in Kansas - where I was fortunate to be put on my yellow brick road to leadership, by having a father whose quips and witticisms were as insightful as they were deceptively simple.
One of his favorites, still in regular use in his one-hundredth decade, reminds me to always look forward. “There is a reason,” he regularly says, “that rear view mirrors are small and windshields are big.” And that has always been top of my five standards in life as a leader.
Second is that collaboration is the key to success – and that nothing worth doing is worth doing alone. You have to be a team to successfully deliver and here I was inspired by an early Lee Iacocca saying: “The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.”
As my career in sales developed, I realized that you have to protect what you have, and you have to make it good enough for people to want more. As learning is a core part of understanding that concept I realized the need for getting stuck in and a saying from the thriller writer Agatha Christie perfectly captures the essence of this: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”
And, having started and learned to protect what you have, you need to be relentless in the pursuit of goals, and here no-one sums it up better that tennis legend, Rafa Nadal who, despite his longevity in the game still says: “I play each point like my life depends on it.”
And, in these extraordinary times, it has never been more appropriate to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Always be thinking about how to improve things. Seek opinions from your team. Be ready to try new things. And, while Eleanor Roosevelt is famed for saying: “Do one thing every day that scares you,” for me it is best summed up by a quote someone had typed up and stuck on a notice board in my first office, which simply said: “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”
Leadership is a privilege not to be squandered.
Blog author: Kelly Kuhn, Special Advisor, CWT