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If we want to become business leaders who lead with wisdom, respect, resilience and strength, we must study the actions of the great leaders who came before us. Finding those parallels between the past and the present has always been a successful learning tactic for me. Leading in the modern age isn’t a task for the faint of heart, and it’s in these moments that effective leadership becomes essential for the well-being of an organization.
Over the years, as an entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO, I’ve learned some meaningful lessons from others that I utilize time and time again in business. I hope you find them as beneficial as I have.
1. Lead with empathy
From empathetically steering her country through natural disasters and a global pandemic, to adopting climate and gender-equality policies, New Zealand‘s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has earned my admiration as a leader who puts empathy at the forefront.
Empathy can be one of the toughest emotions to tap into when we find ourselves buried under both personal and professional demands. Yet, following Jacinda’s example, I’ve found that when we can approach a challenge with empathy and patience, it presents opportunities for teams to build stronger trust and relationships with each other. Being an empathetic leader looks like being curious and listening deeply with the intent to learn from those around you. It’s critical to make sure that teams feel heard in a safe way and to fully acknowledge how they are feeling.
2. Prioritize transparency
When thinking about how to increase communication and clarity within an organization, I am reminded of Aaron Levie, the CEO and co-founder of Box, who is known for being one of the most transparent leaders in Silicon Valley. To Aaron, transparency is key to a successful business model, and he practices this by holding weekly progress meetings with over 100 of the company’s internal directors where they fully review the areas of the business that are performing well and those that may be struggling.
Being as honest and transparent as possible with your teams requires a degree of vulnerability. When transparency is prevalent in the workplace, you can connect with your teams on a more authentic level and see them beyond just their professional accomplishments. To me, transparency can look like frequent townhalls or weekly calls with stakeholders and team members, openly communicating any changes that are being made to daily processes and effectively preparing teams to be proactive in reaching their goals. This form of communication works both ways. In addition to being a resource for others and ready to share your knowledge and opinions, being a leader is also about remaining open to feedback and ideas from your teams.
3. Lead by example
A captivating leader is self-aware, someone who lives with integrity and lets their actions speak much louder than their words. This type of servant leadership has been seen on the world stage recently with how President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has continued to lead his people throughout the conflict with Russia.
In addition to being an extremely direct communicator with other world leaders, he is also rallying alongside his people while remaining in office. The determination he has instilled in his constituents is extraordinary. Observing President Zelensky’s leadership through both strength and vulnerability this year is a sharp reminder of the type of leader we can all seek to be more like.
4. Build resiliency
Strategically leading a team is more than having state-of-the-art computers, a core mission statement or a captivating business model. While all those things certainly help a business to thrive, the true resiliency of a team comes from its ability to respond to adversity and disruptions with innovation and integrity.
There are few more resilient leaders in our history books than Nelson Mandela, who after spending 27 years in prison for fighting apartheid rule, became South Africa’s first president elected in a fully representative democratic election in 1994. His famous quote, “It always seems impossible until it’s done,” speaks to the power of being resilient. He has become a true symbol of resilience for many business leaders, highlighting the power in all of us to not only endure, but persist in the face of hardships and adversity.
5. Create inspiration
The ability to inspire others is one of the most important skills a leader can have. There are plenty of admirable bosses and CEOs, but there are only a handful of leaders who can instill energy, passion and connection into their daily actions and behaviors.
Inspiration is what keeps us moving forward, and whether you’re inspired by elected officials who grace the world stage, by CEOs who have paved the path for companies both big and small or by your team members at the office, I hope you find moments of inspiration in it all and can apply that to your business goals.