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  • Susan Belangee

A good leader is...

There is no shortage of opinions about what makes a good leader. You likely had some ideas come to mind even in reading the first sentence. In addition, there are hundreds of leadership assessments and inventories that supposedly pinpoint the traits and skills of good leaders or leadership qualities. Here's my thought - with all the bestselling books and assessments with strong empirical support, why are we still asking the question? Have we truly not defined leadership adequately enough or is there some elusive component we are all striving to grasp?

I think one answer can be found in Adlerian psychology - we are all striving toward significance, a sense of mastery over the things we claim to be "knowledgeable about" or "experts in."We want to know that our existence and contributions matter in the grand scheme of things, myself included. So we set a goal for ourselves and keep working toward it as best we can. Some of us want the glory that might come from being in charge, while others of us could care less about the glory and just focus on getting the job done. Regardless, we keep asking the question because as life and the workplace changes, our answer must adjust as well.

No matter which end of the glory spectrum you occupy, at the end of the day we all want to know that our work mattered, made a difference somehow or contributed to the goal. I think a good leader lets their team know how their efforts are impacting the outcome of a project. I also think a good leader gets their hands dirty in the work at times rather than staying out of it, or worse, "above it."

Give me a leader all day every day who is willing to step into the trenches with their team, who demonstrates an understanding that we each bring a piece of the puzzle that gets placed in the big picture. That is a leader I am willing to follow. Leaders who have worked hard to get where they are but are still in touch with what happens at every level of the project command my respect. I aspire to be that kind of leader.

In my work as a supervisor, I often reflected on my past supervisors - the good, the bad, and the ugly. I committed to being one of the good ones, which meant I fostered space for my supervisee to grow into their own understanding while offering anecdotes and personal experiences related to their struggles and triumphs. To have courage to be imperfect is crucial for leaders in my opinion (that's another blog post for sure!). Sharing the mistakes we made while learning "the trenches" keeps us humble and open to others and in touch with what truly happens as we are learning. None of us was born into the positions we hold; we had to work to get there. Good leaders remember the time and effort they devoted to the job and remind themselves that those now serving in "the trenches" need encouragement and guidance, just like we did once. May we never be too good, too important, too lofty, too out of touch to help others.

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