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Navigating a Leadership Reality: Adapting your Attributes

Leadership attributes, skills, characteristics… call it what you’d like.

It can feel like a really tall order to be a leader if you’ve been told that a good leader is:

  • Self-aware
  • Strategic
  • Creative
  • Decisive
  • Results-oriented
  • Communicative
  • Transparent
  • Inclusive
  • Innovative
  • Curious
  • Accountable
  • Flexible
  • Adaptable
  • Resilient
  • Inspiring
  • Collaborative
  • Empowering
  • Visionary
  • Trustworthy
  • Passionate
  • Authentic
  • Respectful
  • Compassionate
  • Empathetic
  • …Holy sh*t this is a long list…

These are all consistently described as leadership attributes. And it is impossible to be all of these things all of the time. If this is what we use as the definition of a “good leader,” then we are setting leaders up for failure. It makes being a “bad leader” too easy. It makes being a “good leader” exhausting before someone even gets started.

Here’s a more realistic reality to remind yourself of.

You already have these attributes within you, just by being a decent human.

You cannot be all of these things all at once, and you might be better at demonstrating some of these attributes than others.

Being a good leader is about understanding that these are all always available to you when you need them. It’s about knowing what situations require which attributes. It’s about a commitment to fostering the ones that need a little work.

Here’s an example.

I hear a lot of leaders tell me how hard it is to be empathetic. And under certain circumstances that is true. How could you relate to the struggles of your employee who is a single parent if you don’t have any children? So in those circumstances, choose compassion instead.

Use empathy in some other situation when it makes more sense for you and the other person’s experience.

Being a leader does not mean being all things to all people all of the time. Much of the time it means responding instead of reacting. When we respond, we can intentionally choose what attribute is needed in order to show up as the best leader in that moment.


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