When we read compelling stories of leaders in business, in politics and in society, most of the emphasis is placed on what the person has accomplished and achieved. It’s all about how they’ve affected others.

That’s not the source of leadership, though. True leadership begins on the inside – what I like to characterize as the five Cs.

Character

A true leader takes seriously the ideas of honesty, integrity and principles. Others will quickly sense whether they are able to trust that his or her actions will be consistent and headed toward a compelling purpose.

Think about it: Would you want to follow somebody who can’t be trusted? Why would you bother being led in a direction that doesn’t align with goals that inspire you?

Over the last year, Gus Lee has inspired us with his talks about the importance of character. Although his experience at West Point gives him many military examples, he tells just as many stories of individuals in business or society whose strength of character inspire others to follow along and contribute.

Courage

Lee also has talked compellingly about the role of courage. Leadership is lonely, because you’re not leading unless you’re going in a direction that’s unexpected. If it’s unexpected, there’s risk involved. Others will doubt, criticize, and impede your progress.

It’s not really courage unless you have tough choices to make. Taking the easy path would just require that you make some easy choices. Heading off into challenging territory despite your fear needs courage. It takes great courage to continue on, through the doubts and hardships, just because there’s an important purpose propelling you forward.

Commitment

People are drawn to follow others who show consistent direction toward something that’s important to them. And that’s not just doing the easy part, but also committing to work through the inevitable challenges.

Commitment is infectious. Dedicated people inspire others to the same thinking, and the passion builds on itself. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

A true leader not only commits to a compelling purpose, but also to the people involved. When you can trust that someone “has your back,” you’re going to work much harder to help them achieve their goals.

 

Clarity

The internal attributes of character, courage and commitment need to connect with others. Clarity is demonstrated not only in words and actions, but also in the consistency that people see.

Clarity is most powerful when it’s uncomplicated and straightforward. If you have to use obscure logic or build from suspect data, you’re going to lose people.

What’s clear to you may not be clear to others. A powerful example is business leaders who have learned to manage by the numbers, who understand how revenue, expenses, taxes and profits all work together. In my experience, very few have mastered this, and in fact most people are intimidated by their lack of understanding of finances. If you’re trying to lead your organization through difficult changes because of the impact on profitability, you’ll have to help people internalize how the finances work. Otherwise, they may never get clarity around why you need their support.

Compassion

Finally, leadership is all about how you elicit support from others. If you aren’t sensitive to what others need from you, and how your actions affect them, you’ll never see success. People will feel trampled, ignored and disengaged.

I choose the word compassion not only because it starts with a C, but because it’s more powerful than just listening to people. The compassionate leader will understand and respect that each person has their unique point of view, motivations, and challenges. When these are addressed, the leader earns the trust and respect of each individual. The group also grows stronger, because everyone can see that their uniqueness is valued, and makes a contribution to the accomplishments of the team.

Leadership is difficult, and each of us is called to be a leader in certain situations. It’s inspiring to see the accomplishments of those who have succeeded before us, but recognize that the hard work was who they became internally. Your challenge is to become that person who will lead in ways that make a difference, building upon your own personal strengths and skills.

Carl Dierschow is a Small Fish Business Coach based in Fort Collins. His website is www.smallfish.us.

Copyright © 2011 Northern Colorado Business Report by Biz West Media.
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