What does it take to lead?

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I am not the typical ‘leader’ – the distinguished, white, male, ivy-school graduate with the privileged background and

exclusive network. And yet I’ve been asked to speak on leadership and innovation for the past two decades. This week, I’m speaking on the topic of – What does it take to lead? I’m profiling an early experience, an early memory, to help everyone think deeply about what it takes to lead, how they are leading well, and what else they can do to fearlessly lead.

When I was five, I lived in Hong Kong and we were assigned so much homework it took me four hours to complete it. So I charmed my uncle into doing it for me. When my teacher asked who did my homework and why, I responded that my uncle did my homework because I thought that four hours of homework was excessive. I got sent back to my seat without a comment. We got much less homework. Everyone looked at me differently after that.

From this example, what does it take to lead?

  1. Self-Awareness.
    • It starts with knowing and understanding yourself and your fit with the circumstances of other people and things around you.
      • Be introspective enough to know yourself well – complete with motivations, strengths and weaknesses. Be curious enough to know others well, complete with motivations, strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Independence.
    • Leaders can think like everyone else does, and act like everyone else does, but they also have their own independent way of thinking and acting.
      • See the possibilities beyond following the status quo.
  3. Idealism.
    • Leaders don’t settle and accept circumstances which they feel are unjust. They are more likely to make a stand for a better world.
      • Which injustices do you face day-to-day? What are you doing about it in big and small thoughts, words and actions?
  4. Empowerment.
    • Leaders are empowered enough to believe that their thoughts, words and actions make a difference – one conversation, one leader, one organization at a time.
      • Change is never a given, but feeling empowered to make a change provides hope for a better world.
  5. Courage.
    • Leaders make a courageous stand for change, and are willing to accept the consequences for their role in fostering change.
      • Courage is not always in-your-face. It’s a subtle charm, a persuasive dialogue, an emotional appeal. Courage may or may not mean overcoming fear – but it does mean thinking, speaking and acting despite any fear you might have.
  6. Engagement.
    • Leaders care about others. They are engaged in the community, passionate for the greater good. If they weren’t they would not act on behalf of everyone else.
      • Be engaged – really care about what you do and who you do it with, regardless of what your leadership responsibilities are.
  7. Collaboration Mindset.
    • Leaders know they can’t do it themselves. They enlist allies, supporters, partners and seek win-for-all solutions.
      • Everyone has a piece of the puzzle. Welcome perspectives that stretch your own view of the problem set.
  8. Resourcefulness.
    • Leaders think outside the box to get ideas, resources and support necessary to foster change.
      • Invite people to complement the resources, plans, technologies you have in place.
  9. Commitment.
    • Leaders are committed to their community, to their cause… in their thinking, in their speaking and in their actions.
      • When you make a decision, be All-In. Don’t waffle and second-guess yourself. Be committed to the cause, unless it no longer makes sense to do so.
  10. Strategic Thinking.
    • Leaders think strategically about the problem, the people, and the solutions. They collaboratively work with players across the ecosystem to resolve the issue.
      • It takes an ethical leader who thinks broadly about problems and empowers a wide range of others to address that same problem from different fronts. There are so many moving pieces and so many players and resources involved. The leader *has* to think strategically on their feet.

What are *your* thoughts on what it takes to lead?

How will you push your *own* leadership potential?

How will you empower *others* to do the same?


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