Watching the Tour de France is always exciting. I became hooked on the sport as I watched Lance Armstrong, the young American cancer survivor, compete for and win an unprecedented seven tours.
This grueling 3-week event is both an individual and a team sport. It requires strategic and tactical skills. It has flat and mountain stages, and many believe it is the most demanding physical and mental sport in the world. It's also the most highly watched annual sporting event -- with over one million spectators lining the course and one billion watching the daily live broadcasts on TV.
Twenty-one teams consisting of nine men each will pedal their way across Belgium and France for a total of nearly 2,100 miles. Each team has one leader and eight domestiques. These domestiques are literally aides, servants, assistants to the team's star. In the competitive world of professional athletics, how does one man induce eight outstanding performers to give it all for him? It's not easy, but Lance Armstrong has managed, or I should say led, his team to victory by developing the personality traits essential for leadership.
Most leadership research has focused on military leaders. I suppose that's the ultimate test of a leader. We can develop these personality traits in ourselves to help us lead our companies to success in the every day battles we face in our industry.
Empathy or the ability to put yourself in someone's shoes. This is the basis for trust -- the first building block of leadership. Without it, you don't have a chance of building a successful team.
Reciprocity or the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Or better yet, practice the Platinum Rule — treat others the way they would like to be treated. Another form of reciprocity is switching roles. Actually allow team members to be leaders... and follow them. Future leaders have to start somewhere, why not nurture them. This takes real maturity on the part of a leader, but it's also a great way to get a fresh perspective.
Energy or enthusiasm. Good leaders are in the midst of the action, not stuck in their office. Get out there, talk to your team, ask questions, observe daily operations. This will help you develop adult relationships with your team, avoiding the management vs. staff dynamic.
Vision or the ability to articulate the goal. To maintain enthusiasm, your team must know where it's going. Your job is to identify the results and promote the vision - every day. You must stay focused, set goals and reward success incrementally.
Humility or the art of saying "I was wrong." Leading by example means for better or for worse. Get comfortable with criticism and create an environment where your team can feel safe to offer candid feedback without fear of reprisals. It's a great way to learn and grow.
Stamina or tolerance. Leaders must have the physical and mental ability to stay the course. Take care of yourself and your business by balancing the demands of work and home, eating right, and exercising. This self discipline is a sign of maturity and will improve your energy level and help you stay focused and keep an optimistic outlook when things get tough.
Assertiveness or self confidence. The ability to act in a confident, logical manner is another trait of great leaders. While left brain traits are typically associated with modern management styles, a good leader also depends on his or her intuition and "gut" without being sentimental. Be straightforward and direct in your actions and interactions with your team members.
Honesty or doing the right thing for the right reason. Whether it's motivated by a sense of duty or personal loyalty a strong character and ethics are essential. Decisions made for the right reasons allow the leader to be generally secure and guilt free. Leaders expect honesty from their team mates. Because leadership is a valuable personal asset, leaders will go to great lengths to protect and defend their reputation.
Thick skin or "Frankly Scarlet, I don't give a damn." While leaders are sensitive to the opinions and feelings of others when appropriate, they have little need for approval. The current practice of elected officials taking opinion polls to determine their stance on a subject shows a clear lack of leadership ability.
Compulsiveness or another word for charisma. Moderation isn't the hallmark of most leaders. They're precise, controlled, and sometimes downright fanatical about the things that matter to them. It contributes greatly to the "larger than life" reputation so many charismatic leaders have.
How many leadership traits do you possess? The good news is that leaders are rarely (if ever) born. As football coach Lou Holtz said, "Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it." So get out there and start developing these leadership traits and just remember...anyone can do anything they set their mind to.
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