Initially, this blog post was going to be about how women could help poise themselves for more leadership roles. I wanted to work on developing better leadership qualities for myself and write about what I’d discovered along the way. As usual for me, what started out as one project (women in leadership) ended up in a different place by focusing on a more basic question: what makes a leader?

To start my creative juices, I began a little research project focusing on “Women and Leadership”. If you google “books on leadership”, you get approximately 403,000,000 results. If you google “books on leadership for women”, you can whittle the responses down to about 152 million.

I quickly decided I didn’t have the patience for that. Here’s the truth, I will admit that I have not read Sandburg’s Lean In yet. I also confess that I have Lois Frankel’s Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office on my nightstand but I haven’t really focused on it (although I’ve heard it’s great). I also have How to Win Friends and Influence People on my desk (I read it years ago but intend to read it again). I’ve sifted through works by Peter Drucker, John Wooden, and the like. They are all great works and can offer great tidbits for success and leadership skills.

But I’m overwhelmed enough with time and attention right now, so I need the short version of these books.

Two weeks ago, I attended a work conference with 200+ corporate managers in Chicago. Roughly 95% were men. On the first full day of seminars, the focus was on leadership and the speaker (Jim Clemmer) posed the question – “what makes a good leader?” Then, “what makes a great leader?”

Great leaders have brains, right. But some of the smartest people I’ve ever met are not great leaders. How many bosses or leaders have you known that are smart and business-oriented but can fall into:

  • Blaming others
  • Only communicating when there’s a problem
  • Focuses on the negative
  • Disrespectful
  • Unapproachable

Those people aren’t regarded as “great” leaders, are they?

Good leaders have strength and intelligence. But the great ones have strength and intelligence plus certain other traits, including:

  • Heart
  • Persuasion power
  • Commitment
  • Possibility thinking
  • Values
  • Integrity
  • Vision
  • Authenticity
  • Accountability
  • Continued self-development/growth
  • Inspires and motivates/engages employees
  • Open-minded
  • Communication
  • Relationship-building

As I see it, what makes a great leader isn’t so much what we do, but what is within us to begin with. Maybe leadership IS an ‘inside job’.

What makes a great leader , I think, begins with MINDFULNESS.

More business schools and seminars are focusing on reducing stress and reengaging employees by introducing mindfulness. Stress is proven to negatively impact performance, health, employee dissatisfaction and turnover, etc. Mindfulness allows the practitioner to focus and really pay attention, to listen. As Henna Inam explains, mindfulness can help your leadership abilities in various ways:

  1. Stress Reduction
  2. Self-Awareness
  3. Greater Empathy for Self
  4. Manage our Energy
  5. Become a Better Listener
  6. Strongly Engage Others
  7. Creating Distance Between Thought and Action
  8. Tap Into Intuition
  9. Embrace and Adapt to Change
  10. Greater Clarity and Focus

Emotional intelligence, thoughtfulness, working with clarity all help a smart, strong person become a more effective leader. Steve Jobs meditated and claimed to have found inspiration during his meditating.

I do think there are a lot of pointers and insight we can get from many leadership experts. And I would like to spend some time reading and embracing some highly renowned works on being a great leader. However, I’m starting at the beginning for myself. I’m working on the inside by practicing mindfulness first, then attacking some of the other leadership books later.

What do you think makes a great leader?

Practicing Mindful Leadership

Mindfulness & Leadership

Forbes Article: Three Keys to Mindful Leadership Coaching

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