Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Barack Obama, Gandhi – what do these leaders have in common? Very little actually, according to the speakers at the Art of Leadership, a conference featuring five internationally recognized authors sharing their thoughts on today’s most critical leadership issues. When we think of what defines a ‘leader’, most of us assume certain traits such as: dominance, assertiveness, extraversion, etc. Although many leaders possess a mix of these, there are a plethora of qualities as empathy, transparency, integrity, and loyalty, which make for an equally charismatic leader. The common thought echoed throughout the conference is that ‘leadership’ is not a characteristic with a checklist of traits, but instead, is an authentication of various personal traits that make a leader effective.
To kick off the day, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey walked us through the fundamental principles of conscious capitalism. As a society we have evolved but businesses have not kept up, leading to public distrust and cynicism. Thus, the first component of conscious capitalism is shifting the focus of a business from profit maximization to purpose maximization as the purpose of business should not be making money, but instead creating value for all stakeholders – customers, suppliers, team members and the community. A purpose-driven culture creates an environment where people just want to work better, resulting in a win-win situation: more loyal employees, happier customers and greater profit. According to John, “A great business strategy without a compelling purpose is like a beautiful highway that doesn’t lead anywhere people want to go.”
Strengths based leader Markus Buckingham defined leadership development in the age of algorithms. During his research within various companies, Markus noticed the key difference between good-performing and bad-performing teams to be leadership. A good leader does three things that allow their employees to win: they know their employees for what they do best, they focus them with what is expected of them and they surround them with like-minded people. How do leaders do this? Well it depends on the type of leader you are. According to Markus, all leaders are different. They do not have to share all of the same qualities. You do not get better as a leader by trying to gain traits you do not have. There is no more authenticity when you try to apply the practices and techniques of another leader; when you lose authenticity as a leader, you lose everything. Your challenge is to take what is unique to you, and make it useful.
Having previously watched Susan Cain’s Ted Talk “The Power of Introverts”, I was extremely excited to watch her speak in person. She did not disappoint with her soft-spoken, poignant and genuine POV on maximizing the strengths of introverts. It was a very different perspective on leadership, one that many may not agree with, but every group needs at least one devil’s advocate to facilitate healthy debate, even if that advocate is a quiet one.
The last two speakers Dan Pontefract and Chester Elton spoke on the topic of engagement and creating a high-performance work culture. People who work in high-performance cultures are engaged, enabled and energized. Such employees are so passionate about their jobs that they create ‘wow’ moments every chance they get, in turn inspiring customers to come back.
The key lesson I took away from the conference is that leadership is like art – it is about inspiring and making it your own. A leader is not defined by the traits they do or do not possess, but by how true they stay to themselves. There are many different ways to lead, but only when you lead with authenticity will you gain the trust, respect and loyalty necessary to win.