During a recent leadership development training, a teammate asked me to define leadership. Think about it for a second. What comes to your mind? 

My initial instinct was to quote Harry Kraemer and his four principles of values-based leadership. If you’re not familiar with Kraemer’s book, ‘From Values to Action,’ I highly encourage you and your team(s) to give it a read. His four concepts are leadership qualities I live and breathe by, so for me, it seemed fitting to rattle through the list to answer this person’s question. 

If you need a refresher (or a sneak peek) at those four principles – I’ve listed them below (and also wrote about them in this blog post).

  1. Self-Reflection: The ability to reflect and identify what you stand for, what your values are, and what matters most.
  2. Balance and Perspective: The ability to see situations from multiple perspectives, including differing viewpoints, to gain a holistic understanding.
  3. True Self-Confidence: More than mastery of certain skills, true self-confidence enables you to accept yourself as you are, recognizing your strengths and your weaknesses, and focusing on continuous improvement.
  4. Genuine Humility: The ability never to forget who you are, to appreciate the value of each person in the organization, and to treat everyone respectfully.

But one quality, in particular, was nagging me and stood out most as we continued the conversation. Each of these four values is important, but perspective, or as I like to call it – empathy – was sounding alarms in my head. Over the last 12 months, I’ve reflected a great deal on the fight between ego and empathy, often realizing that the world would be a much better place if we all took time to empathize with one another. 

By no means am I saying we should all share the same beliefs, ideas, and principles as I often learn the most from those who seek to push me out of my comfort zone. I am, however, saying that I think it’s important to seek first to understand before being understood. What do I mean by that? Simple. Take the time to ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,’ or make a concerted effort to view the world from someone else’s binoculars. Ultimately their view might not change your opinion or perspective, but then again maybe it does. Whatever the case, your newfound ability to understand the motivations that drive a person’s behavior will ultimately make you a more patient, well-rounded, and accepting individual. 

And frankly, this world could use more people like that – wouldn’t you agree?