The Four Aces Of Leadership


Leadership is not a position or title. It can’t be awarded; it must be earned. Close study of many widely respected leaders and their behaviors has led me to the four powerful elements of leadership that everyone can achieve through practice. I call them the Four Aces of Leadership.

The First Ace: Awareness

Great leaders are aware of themselves, others around them and the environment. They are aware of their internal construct — their values, beliefs, motives, emotions, thoughts and the manifestation of these in their behavior and impact on people and the environment. They maintain constant communication with the people and the environment at both a cognitive and a subliminal level.

To enhance your own level of awareness, you can practice the following strategies:

• Be curious. Always be eager to know more about yourself, others and your surroundings. Observe, listen and read as much as you can.

• Seek feedback from others. Always be thankful for the feedback you receive.

• Introspect regularly. Analyze your actions and their genesis. Validate the feedback against your own understanding.

• Practice mindfulness, meditation or similar techniques to understand your internal core and connect with your environmental dimensions.

The Second Ace: An Abundance Mindset

Great leaders have a firm belief that there is enough for everyone and the future can only be better. An abundance mindset leads to a more collaborative and optimistic environment where people feel secure and wanted. Gratitude and humility are the obvious positive fallouts that have a sterling effect on how the leader is perceived.

An abundance mindset automatically makes the leader more inclusive. It makes it easier for the leader to suspend judgment and deal with unconscious biases.

It requires deliberate efforts to build an abundance mindset in a world mostly driven by a scarcity mindset. Some of the actions you can take to build an abundance mindset include:

• Know your needs. Be grateful for having your needs fulfilled and more.

• Be willing to share your resources.

• Always work toward improving the status quo, and be optimistic that the efforts will succeed.

• Include others in your activities, and be a part of theirs.

• Appreciate others for their contributions to you and your world.

• Don’t blame yourself or others for failure. Look for better ways that will lead to success.

The Third Ace: Agility

Great leaders realize they live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, and they know that being agile is the only antidote. They embrace change when they are not causing it. They are quick to respond and flexible to alter course. They are in unison with the operating forces and go with the flow.

Being agile doesn’t mean being spineless or lacking direction. Agile leaders are firmly rooted in their vision, values and principles. They are rigorous in aligning their actions to their core while they are simultaneously exploring and discovering more about themselves to illuminate their core further. They are nimble in adjusting their stance when they become aware of any new aspect about themselves.

When leaders try to be agile without being aware and abundant, they end up adding to the chaos and confusion. They force unnecessary and meaningless change.

Try the following tips to enhance your agility as a leader:

• Overcommunicate. Share what you are thinking and feeling. Share the various options you are considering. Share your analysis on an ongoing basis. Keep relevant stakeholders involved.

• Treat nothing as final, not even your own decisions and plans. Be open to change.

• Balance the need to keep the direction and making relevant tactical moves.

• Experiment and fail fast. Learn and innovate. Keep moving.

• Be intentional. Don’t initiate change aimlessly.

The Fourth Ace: Authenticity

Great leaders are authentic in their expressions and actions. They don’t manipulate their feelings, thoughts and actions to suit the need of the hour. They are equally comfortable in stating their strength and expressing their vulnerability. They don’t pose to be perfect and are always willing to learn.

Authentic behavior takes the stress off the entire system because it eliminates the need to second-guess the leader. The followers get what they see.

It is difficult, and possibly risky in a business setting, to be authentic without being aware, abundant and agile. Herminia Ibarra talks about this challenge in a Harvard Business Review essay, “The Authenticity Paradox.” I insist that the leaders must work on their awareness, abundance mindset and agility before authenticity.

So, once you have the groundwork in place for the first three A’s, practicing the following ideas may help in building the platform for authenticity:

• Evaluate your statements and actions against your intent. Understand the source of the gaps, if there are any. It could be fear, insecurity, need for validation or popularity, or various other reasons.

• Check how others are perceiving you. Do they see you as honest or a manipulator? Verify the feedback against your own evaluation.

• Develop a sense of humor. It aids authenticity during tough times.

• Look at others as human beings before the roles they are in. This shall help you bring a healthy sense of equality in your own mind.

In whatever you do, at work or in life, not leading isn’t a choice anymore. Keep the four aces up your sleeve: Awareness, abundance, agility and authenticity will help you be a better leader. A leader who wins.

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