A female friend of mine once told me how, single at 46 years old, she seemed destined to be a statistic — i.e. to never get married and to end up alone. Even her therapist agreed, telling her that she had this pattern of dating guys, discovering their flaws, and then dumping them. “It’s not so bad to end up single,” her therapist once explained. “It’s better than to be unhappily married to someone. Just stop kidding others and yourself that you would like it to be different. It’s clear from your behavior that you don’t.”
My friend became angry and was determined to prove her therapist wrong. She listed all of the traits that she wanted in a man, a man who she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. That list included qualities such as confidence without arrogance, the ability to take life — but not himself — seriously, kindness, drive without being driven not to distraction, good listening skills, and a sense of humor. She made the list so she would keep those qualities at the top of her mind. She wanted to recognize Mr. Right when she met him.
That method struck me as a very smart and proactive approach to solving her problem. But what she did next was brilliant. She decided that it wouldn’t work out if she found a great guy but was in fact the bad catch herself. So she wrote down the qualities that Mr. Right would be looking for in a woman, a woman who he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
That second list included many of the traits she had identified, but also included such characteristics as graciousness instead of pettiness, respect and an avoidance of gossip, and a wide-ranging interest in the world. She then did a candid assessment of herself and committed to improving all of the traits she lacked or fell short in.
My friend had always been aware of her negative traits, but she had never been motivated to change them. Now she was on a mission. Interestingly — but not surprisingly — as she began to improve her personality, she began to feel more self esteem, become more attractive, and attract more attention — from men.
And then voila, a year later she met that great catch. Mr. Right was a widowed doctor, and a year after meeting, they were married. They’ve now been happily married six years.
What does this version of Sex and the City have to do with leaders and leadership?
Leaders would do well to emulate this friend of mine. For instance, if a leader were to list the qualities of people they want on their team, they might list such characteristics as:
- Takes initiative. Their default mode is to be proactive rather than passive or reactive.
- Makes and keeps commitments. They will give the same effort to a decision they disagree with as they will to a decision the agree with.
- Cooperates. They say, “Yes,” rather than, “Yes, but.”
- Is accountable for their decisions, actions, and consequences. They own up to their mistakes and willingly pay the consequences. They know that saying, “I’m sorry,” is just the beginning of being accountable.
- Learns from their mistakes. They make mistakes but don’t keep making the same mistakes.
- Has imagination and curiosity. They would much rather talk about ideas to make their company better and implement them, rather than talk about people and how unfair things are.
- Has a strong sense of ethics. Their default mode is to do the right thing.
Then leaders might ask themselves, if I were to assemble such a team of great people, what would be the qualities that they would look for in their leader? Just as my friend discovered, such great people would be looking for the same qualities in their leader.
Finally, a leader should take an inventory of how many of these qualities she possesses. Where she is deficient, she should commit to improve. Then, just like my friend, she might not just feel better about herself — but also attract the kind of allegiance and dedication from team members and employees that she has been seeking and now deserves.