Leaders Have to be R.E.A.L.

Posted: July 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

Welcome to my new blog site! I am revamping my website and getting purposeful about my consulting and speaking engagements. My inaugural post on this new site is one from the old blog, but I thought it would be right on target as I begin to look at how leadership and learning collide.  Let the fun begin . . . .

Recently, I took on the task in one of my graduate program studies, to find out what types of leaders are influencing people and what it was about these leaders that stuck out in the minds of those I interviewed.  I polled educational and management professionals in my Twitter and FB networks, so the response was national in scope, but had a lot of common elements.  Responses were primarily personal in nature as many of these leaders directly influenced those who responded.  There was one anomaly that I have to report though.  Five respondents mentioned one of my favorite artists, Jon Bon Jovi, as a leader who is very influential.  I wouldn’t have initially picked him, but after reading their “characteristics of a good leader”, I would agree that he is truly a good leader.  His work with the JBJ Soul Foundation to fight poverty truly sets him apart as a good leader.

So, what makes a good leader? Leaders have to be R.E.A.L.Relational, Ethical, and Action-oriented Listeners.  For your reading pleasure (LOL), I have included a chart with the adjectives that respondents used and placed them into one of the 4 REAL categories.















UnderstandingKnowledge gatherer


Team player

Good leaders build relationships with their people. Trust comes from this relationship, thus people follow leaders that they trust.  Positional leaders can get some things done, but over time, if there is no relationship and trust, results will fade.  Relational also means that leaders can relate to those that they are serving.  A good leader needs to know his/her people, customers, etc. in order to understand what motivates them, scares them, influences them and empowers them to achieve results.  I spend a great deal of time communicating with employees in order to gain a better of understanding of “who” they are as a person.  You don’t necessarily have to be best friends with them, but I strongly believe that a genuine interest in them will lead to better productivity.

Good leaders can be empathetic by focusing on the people in their organization. Listening is key.

Good leaders practice strong morals and ethics.  If you witness a leader doing something that compromises your beliefs, or the company’s mission, you are very likely not to want to follow him/her.  Wavering on decisions and making decisions that benefit the leader first and the client second are signs of unethical leadership.  Good leaders should have a core set of values and live by them daily.  Some core values that I have seen from good leaders are family first, accountable to all stakeholders, customer-service first, people are our biggest asset – and the list goes on.  Be a leader that consistently holds to your values and even more importantly, to your employee’s values.  If you compromise, you lose trust and eventually you lose value as a leader.

Good leaders “get things done”.  They don’t fill employees full of rhetoric and empty promises.  Many leaders may be good planners, but if they fail to implement and get results, they lose credibility as a leader.  Risk is definitely a key word in the REAL leaders vernacular. Leaders take risks in order to get things done.  NPR ran a story on the CEO of www.livingsocial.com and the risk he took by investing 2/3 of the company’s bank account to launch new markets.  He saw the need and did something about it!  He didn’t sit around and talk about it.

Leaders who fall short of customer and/or employee expectations will find themselves leading nobody in a few years.  Don’t promise a raise unless you give one, don’t paint a picture of what might be without taking the risk and rolling your sleeves up and showing “action” towards the vision.  “Plan your work, and work your plan”.

Have you ever worked for someone who never listened to you or his/her employees? They just sit there and text, read or type something while mumbling, “yeah, uh huh” and actually think they are listening?  Good leaders truly listen to their constituents.  They make eye contact and have a conversation with you about your ideas, thoughts, concerns, etc.  Good leaders also employ or incorporate your ideas into the organization when they listen well.  I have worked for poor leaders in the past who would solicit feedback but only to say they had done it.  Employees were presented with a already crafted idea and plan and the leader was seeking “affirmation” and not “input”.  This will quickly alienate employees!

Great leaders also listen to their peers and outside experts.  Great leaders don’t have all the knowledge and must listen to discern competition, client needs, etc.  How many of your tweeps just push information out as if they have all the answers? They choose not to listen to others and join in the conversation but to push personal agendas and make themselves the expert by default.  I recently finished the book Decision Points by former President George W. Bush, Jr. He was a listener. He surrounded himself with experts and sought out input from all around the world before he made a decision.  He states in his book, that he didn’t have the answers, but would listen to those he respected and trusted in order to gain the knowledge to make decisions.  In education, we don’t do a good job of listening – we teach, we impart, but we forget to listen.  I think if we listen to our students, we’ll hear some answers to solving the education crisis.

So, are you a R.E.A.L leader?


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