Two things I remember from receiving a major (and unexpected) promotion years ago: 1) getting onto the train home so excited that I wanted to broadcast the news to a carriage-load of tired strangers (I didn’t!), and 2) walking into my new office on Day 1, closing the door and sinking my head into my hands wondering what exactly I’d walked myself into.

I truly believe that the person you come face to face with, when you become a leader, is yourself.  There is something so personal about stepping into that challenging and often contradictory place:  Find your voice.  Be a great listener.  Give clear direction.  Coach people to think for themselves.  Nurture your team members.  Treat people like adults.  Oh, and get the results.

When you become a leader, everything about you is amplified.  Your strengths, weaknesses, mood, self-regard, assertiveness, clarity – all of these are projected onto a bigger screen and the higher you go, the longer the reach of your leadership shadow.  Your confidence is infectious.  Your belief is inspirational.  Your whisper of doubt holds everybody back.

In the 20 years that I have been working with leaders I have observed that the leaders we choose to follow seem to be able to hold that contradictory space of both trusting and questioning themselves: They trust themselves to do, to say, to let go of, to take a chance, to say yes, to say no.  They question themselves to ask, to not know, to keep learning, to try new things.  These are the leaders who motivate, engage, develop and inspire others to challenge themselves.

Of the leaders I’ve worked with over the years, here is my list of the top 5 competencies (in no particular order):

  • Strong resilience – to cope not just with the busy workload but with the weight of expectations (often contradictory) from many stakeholders.
  • Good self-awareness – a clear picture about what they can bring to the party – and what they really need to work on (together with a willingness to do that work)
  • Great listening – listening not to reply but to build relationship, to value the other, to truly understand.
  • Diplomatic honesty – the ability to say things that are true in a way that the other can hear, make sense of and act on

A sense of perspective – a realisation that there is always a bigger picture and a longer-term view.  An acceptance that work needs to be a human place and that sometimes the small stuff doesn’t matter all that much.