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February 6, 2017 How To

How To: Lead with courage, compassion and wisdom

Jim Bouchard

There's a lot of talk about courage and compassion in leadership today. That's terrific, these are two essential qualities for effective leaders. I'd add wisdom, too.

Let's define these terms.

Courage is not the absence of fear. The absence of fear is stupidity. Effective leaders willingly and knowingly face their fears and help others do the same. That's courage.

Compassion is a true sense of empathy — a sincere and ongoing effort to understand the other person's perspective. This is the differentiating quality between a leader and a tyrant. The genuine leader places the needs of others first.

Wisdom is knowledge and experience –– tempered by awareness. The awareness part is crucial. Effective leaders spend a lot of time looking in the mirror. Not to preen, but to continually identify areas for improvement.

These ideas make for great motivational posters and give speakers a lot to talk about, but the true power of any useful philosophy is in the application.

These eight strategies will help:

1. Never limit yourself to one leadership style

Even in small organizations, today's leader serves a diverse group of constituents. You have to be responsive to different cultural norms, generational and gender differences and a wide range of ambitions, needs and desires. There just isn't one leadership style or theory that applies to all people in all situations. Study, learn and train to be articulate in a number of styles.

2. Be tough — yet compassionate

People want leaders who care about them. They respond better when they know the leader has their backs. The problem is that compassion can be confused with weakness. Don't make that mistake. Compassion also means being able to make tough decisions for the good of the group and the individual.

3. Commit yourself to personal and professional mastery

Perfection is not a destination. It's a never-ending process. If you expect others to improve continually, you'd better do the same. There is nothing more inspiring than a leader who is willing to grow and improve as a person, and as a leader.

4. Be confident, be humble and lead by example

People follow examples much more enthusiastically than they do orders. Model the behavior you expect in the people you serve.

5. Be flexible, adaptable and comfortable with uncertainty

One of the characteristics of courage is the ability to face uncertain conditions and circumstances. Be prepared for every possibility and contingency, but also be receptive to the rapid flow of new information and changing conditions. See uncertainty as an opportunity to test and hone your skills, talents and abilities.

6. Be a skilled communicator

One of the most difficult challenges in leadership today has one of the simplest solutions. Communicate with sincerity, honesty and transparency.

7. Be a dedicated teacher, coach and mentor

Effective leaders are good teachers. There is no greater expression of compassion than developing the full potential of others. In leadership, this is no luxury –– it's essential to the health of the organization.

Know when to encourage and when to correct. Bring out the best in others and confidently train them to surpass you in talent, skill and ability.

8. Lead by sharing — not accumulating

I can sum up everything I know about leadership in just a few words: Leadership is sharing. A leader shares. An effective leader shares power, authority, respect and wisdom.

If you want to be a better leader, focus first on being a better person.

Jim Bouchard is a Maine-based speaker, media personality and author of “The Sensei Leader” and “Think Like a Black Belt.”

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