The Litmus Test Of Your Greatest Transformational Leaders: What Did You Take Forward?

Leadership Lesson: It’s important for each of us to keep in mind our greatest leaders – the standouts — in order to consider what it was that made them so and how they can inspire us to find, develop, and live our best form of leadership for those around us.

This past week, on LinkedIn, I posted a few pictures of and commentary on the leadership book Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times, which chronicles the best leadership examples and stories of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. Taking a lesson from the book, I also posted the IGTV video below to break down how we demonstrate the meaning in what we do.

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Lesson In: How much do you mean in what you lead and live?

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In the LinkedIn post, I asked my connections who their greatest leaders were and followed up by asking what made them so. In the responses I got, I could see and sense what a difference those leaders had truly made in the responders’ lives. In general, there’s a certain language and tone people use when speaking highly of someone with whom they’ve had great experiences.

And we can all look back and assess our bosses, supervisors, and managers and, honestly, compare them to determine which were effective in their leadership and which weren’t, and how far each fell into either of those directions. Sure, comparisons aren’t always advisable, but if they’re done for the sake of learning, developing, and paying it forward, have at it if you choose to.

Related: Free Leadership Learning Tool: Learn By Comparing Your Bosses

And if you do try to call to mind the greatest leaders throughout your work and life, there’s a good chance that right away, if not in a few seconds, you can recall those who made the most difference in your life.

Yes, life.

There’s just something about great leadership. It not only creates a ripple effect of communication, collaboration, and creation in its immediate environment, but it also makes you feel seen, empowered, and valuable outside of that leader’s environment.

Whether they’re your leader at work, or in your religious house of worship, or an educator, or anyone at all who has that “It” factor, after you leave their presence, you feel somewhat transformed. With some leaders, that transformational power may be gradual and subtle. With others, it may be immediate and powerful. But with all of them, the impact and influence is long-lasting.

And I would say a litmus test for knowing whether or not you’ve been around great leadership is asking yourself Am I a better person — not just worker or business person — for having known and worked with this leader? Again, the effects go beyond the immediate reach of that leader.

Who was it for you, then? How can you tell? What were the effects?

I’d be curious to know what it was those leaders did to build the kind of high esteem you have for them.

Even if we’ve forgotten the effects of working with that leader because we’re wrapped up in the chaos of our current endeavors, it’s easy to recall and harness their influence for our own purposes and work toward paying forward that ability to really make a difference in someone else’s life and work.

So, in recalling those types of leaders, what were the things that stood out to you? What were the approaches, nuances, and behaviors that made them impressive?

Here are just some that stood out to me for those great leaders from my past. Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list, and our lists may either be completely unique or actually overlap in some items.

The Way They Look At You

Never underestimate the power of how a leader looks at you or acknowledges your presence and contribution.

Most of us may go through our day, working at a break-neck pace, doing our work, collaborating with others, and laying out expectations for others without really looking them in the eye and connecting with appreciation and true presence. We don’t convey that it’s not just a job or a project being managed and that we understand what it is they’re contributing through their skill, abilities, talent, and work.

Related: Your Leadership Wake: As A Leader, How Do You Acknowledge Others?

The Way They’re There For You In The Moment

The greatest of leaders demonstrate that they have your back, no matter what, when it counts, as things are playing out.

If their general leadership has been up to par, they’ve tried to provide you with the best tools and guidance to get the job done. Adding to your confidence built on those tools are their support and presence as you work through what you have to accomplish. They don’t just provide guidance or check in on what you’re doing. They support you fully. Sounds like common sense, right? Too often, though, support in a leader’s mind is more just checking in on the status of the work and not so much on the status and needs — such as of emotion and confidence — of the person.

The Way They Follow Up After The Fact

There’s also something very important – and special – about how a leader can follow up and remember what’s important, not only regarding your work but also – and especially — what you need and what’s important to you. So, they’re following up to see how you’re doing, what you need, and what you think – essentially, where you stand on things.

We can’t do our personal best for the environment if we don’t feel right ourselves internally before carrying out any of the external skills and responsibilities utilized in what we’ve done or what’s gone down. Great leaders understand that.

The Feedback They Give You

The greatest of leaders want to make you better.

Again, this sounds like common sense, right? A good amount of people in leadership positions, though, don’t quite see that valuable opportunity in leadership. They see it more that you should deliver for what they need for the mission and/or the higher-up’s, to make them look good – or, to be fair, to make sure they deliver on their responsibilities. There’s nothing wrong with that. Leaders can feel pressure just like anyone else. But the best leaders are going to make sure that everything they touch gets better, whether it’s the policy, procedure, process, or people in their “charge.”


Related In The Books Podcast
Episode 5: Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead And Win
By Jocko Willink & Leif Babin


Whatever the indicators may be for you – the things that stood out in how that leader conveyed and demonstrated amazing leadership – what did you take away from them? It’s not that you can copy their style. If you did, those aspects of your leadership wouldn’t be authentic, they wouldn’t be yours – and others would be able to tell, possibly labeling you a phony.

Instead, it’s a matter of thinking about what it is that can lead to and drive the same action and steps in you that they take.

Related: Developing Your Leadership Is About Speculation, Not Emulation

The most interesting thing about talking and hearing about the greatest leaders in the life of colleagues, friends, and clients is that the most effective impact on us isn’t born out of an organization, workplace, or environment’s policies but of that leader’s demeanor and way of being. The most bang for the buck in impact often doesn’t even come from the wallet, but from words, gestures, concern, guidance, curiosity, support, etc. — all free tools.

It’s like these leaders bestow that insight on you — maybe unknowingly — and send you forward, prepared to make just as much of a difference for others.

Don’t take for granted the free lessons that have been – and are – all around you. They’re there for the taking and possibly offer some of the greatest insights you could ever learn.


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