By Ethan Penland, Director of Admissions Services
4 minute read
I enjoy going to social media to see what admissions leaders are posting, what they’re liking or re-sharing, and where they are making comments.
This gives me insight as to what people are thinking and how they are feeling. I say all of this because the topic of leadership, more specifically the topic of growing to become a better person in a leadership role, has been cluttering my feeds (which I love). It’s truly impressive to see so many individuals who are wanting to invest in their growth as leaders, and it has inspired me to write this article!
There are plenty of books, articles (like this one), interviews, quotes, and conversations on how leadership should look, feel, and perform. Need proof? Well, leadership development training is a $360 billion dollar industry, so there are a lot of people interested in being an “expert” on leadership.
From my experience in a leadership role, along with research, personal trials and tribulations, and conversations with individuals who’ve succeeded many years in leadership (plus a few who’ve just recently started), I’ve identified six traits that continue to stand out:
- Empathy – I start with empathy because, without it, many of the other characteristics will be unfulfilled. The power of empathy in a leadership role gives you the ability to connect on a humanistic level. Successful leaders value taking time to understand and recognize the ups and downs that their team goes through in their personal or professional life. Leaders that feel that it’s not their place to get involved in those conversations are not realizing the power of connection and how it can impact not only work performance but an office culture.
- Vulnerability – This is one of the hardest characteristics for new leaders, veteran leadership, and especially for those who may be experiencing a degree of imposter syndrome. We are all human, and we all make mistakes, wrong decisions, have poor ideas (or none at all), and have to use the phrase “I don’t know.” Your humanistic quality doesn’t stop when you become a leader–if anything, it should be amplified. The most successful leaders acknowledge that one person cannot be the sole solution, creator, innovator, or contributor, and by being vulnerable, they are able to genuinely look at their team and communicate the importance of everyone and their contributions. The more vulnerable you allow yourself to be, the more empowered your team becomes.
- Purpose-Driven – Why do you want to be a leader or why did you become a leader? Sure, you got a promotion or it was a great opportunity you couldn’t pass up, but what is the purpose–your purpose–of being a leader? I hope it’s not a monetary purpose because you are in higher education, after all. The best leaders I know have a personal mission statement for their leadership. I’ve had one that I’ve edited time and time again to match my purpose in whatever role I was in. As my leadership evolved, so did my purpose. I went from having the purpose of being the best at meeting enrollment goals to being the best leader of people who can influence a student’s life through college access. Whatever your purpose is, how are you letting it be seen and how are you putting it to use?
- Value People – What motivates people on your team to perform their best? What are their tendencies in pressured situations? What are their values? These are questions that leaders hopefully can answer about their staff as professionals, but the most successful leaders can answer these questions about the people–not just professionals. The best leaders get to the root of their staff by knowing them as people. The more you know who your staff members are, the better you can be understanding of how they contribute or portray themselves as professionals–and why.
- Contributor – Unfortunately, there are leaders who expect a lot but give very little. When leaders demand without contributing, especially during high-pressure times, morale will take a hit. The staff will feel underappreciated and overworked. Successful leaders know that their actions are valuable and set the tone for the team. By jumping in and getting their hands dirty with their staff, successful leaders show the team that no task is “beneath” them. Having this trait doesn’t mean you have to do everything, but leaders that have this trait recognize the importance of getting involved and contributing when it matters most.
- Developer – If you are a “doer,” this is a hard trait to put into practice, but it’s still possible! The key thing to keep in mind is the more you do, the less your team learns. In other words, instead of always performing the action, explain why and how it is done, and include your team in the action. Always doing and not explaining is taking the easy route, and that’s a problem. By taking the easy route, you’re sacrificing your team’s ability to grow. The most successful leaders invest the necessary time to show and explain, and by doing so, they’re developing and empowering their staff who will be the next generation of leaders to lead.
Leadership is, without a doubt, one of the hardest but most rewarding experiences one can have. I truly believe that if you are able to grow to make these traits a part of your leadership, the rewards will be bountiful. Of course, the list of traits can always be longer, but if you focus on these six traits of leadership, you can create an extremely sturdy foundation for future growth.
If you found this article helpful, awesome! I would love to hear from you, but even more so, I would love for you to pass it along to someone who could benefit from the read. If you do want to connect with me, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter!