5 learnings for more courageous leadership in 2019

Colin Payne

What does great leadership look like? The answer depends on who you ask.

Over the past three months, we’ve asked 177 leaders from multiple industries this question. As a group, they agree that great leaders focus on: constant learning, empowering their teams to succeed, being humble and listening, self-awareness, and leading by example.

At the root of all these incredible leadership traits is one virtue that makes them all possible — courage. It takes courage to say you’re learning and listening because that means admitting you don’t know everything. Giving your team tools and trusting them to succeed is a leap of faith. Understanding yourself means recognizing your weaknesses and knowing when to ask for help.

All this might seem like it’s more related to personal growth than business. However, leaders who embrace these values and practice courage are also making their organizations more agile, innovative and attractive to top talent.

Live leadership learnings

Here at ThoughtExchange, we’re grateful to work with many leaders in a variety of industries who embody this kind of courage. Our customers are out there seeking truth and forging new paths of communication in their organizations. They’re boldly leading change to transform companies and communities every day.

They do it by having brave conversations, listening to people, learning what matters and making the decisions necessary for everyone on their teams to succeed.

We’re also lucky to have customers who are so passionate about their work that they’re happy to stand in front of their peers and share what they’ve learned. Over the past year, dozens of leaders have shared their stories and wisdom at our ThoughtExchange Events.

In an effort to spread their wise words far and wide, we’ve collected our five favorite nuggets of advice leaders have shared at our recent events. We hope they’ll inspire you to be even more brave and bold as you lead your people forward through the year to come.

Be open and learning

Where the profound nature of leadership is changing is in understanding how do we take people from being closed and knowing to open and learning?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd, Superintendent — Victoria Independent School District

Embrace tough conversations

We didn’t start a conversation by asking our teams questions. We just joined a conversation they were having without us. There’s a vulnerability in asking the question. There’s also a tremendous amount of courage initially until you realize that you’re able to answer — even by answering that you can’t do anything about it right now. People feel that authentic sense of connection.

Dessalen Wood, Vice President of Talent Development — Cineplex Entertainment

Inspire trust through vulnerability

There’s no way to get to a trusting relationship without having vulnerability. When you say you want a relationship and you want your community to trust you–not just on one topic–it’s ongoing trust. You have to show vulnerability. You have to be the one to model it first and demonstrate it. It is scary. But when people see that, they recognize it.

Dr. David Vannasdall, Superintendent — Arcadia Unified School District

Admit your mistakes

It feels pretty good to be open and honest with someone and say ‘I was wrong, I didn’t do that well.’ I have found, for the most part, what you’re saying is, ‘Here’s what my motivation was; I’m not perfect all the time.’ It brings people into the conversation from a much different place. They’re much more willing to collaborate and figure something out with you when they feel you’re being an open, honest partner… Most people, most of the time want to accept you for who you are and what you’ve done that’s well motivated.

Dr. Kevin McGowan, Superintendent — Brighton Central School District

Focus on the best ideas

There are a lot of people out there with a lot of wonderful ideas who kind of feel like they’ve never been heard, or have never been asked. And as soon as you give them an opportunity and you open the tap, you see this profuse amount of data coming in, information coming in, ideas coming in.

Suresh Radhakrishnan, Head of Organizational Development and Training — Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

What does great leadership mean to you?

Have your own thoughts about what great leadership looks like? We’d love to hear them. Join the exchange and share your leadership learnings with fellow leaders across the country. Click here to participate!

About the Author

Colin Payne

Colin has been playing with words and telling stories for as long as he can remember. His knack for narratives led him to award-winning work in newspapers and seven successful years as an independent content creator. Along the way, Colin learned to use a camera. Pretty well. He has created images for major corporate clients and national publications while winning international awards for his nature photography. Colin’s quest for meaningful work and drive to do some good in the world eventually led him to ThoughtExchange. He’s continually stoked to help tell the ThoughtExchange story and share how leaders are moving their organizations forward by bringing people together. When not at the keyboard, Colin can be found chasing his two young children or exploring the mountains around his home in Nelson, BC. Find Colin on Twitter @colinpayne_te.