If you look back over your career, chances are you can identify one or two people who stand out as memorable leaders. Even if these people didn't hold an official leadership role, their actions and words rallied people together to achieve a common goal. Whether that goal was large or small, far-reaching or contained, people remember these leaders for a long time.
While there are many great leaders in the world, not all of them are truly memorable--that is, they don't leave an impression that lasts beyond their current accomplishment or focus. But being memorable is essential to long-term success. What makes one leader memorable and puts another in the "out of sight, out of mind" category? It comes down to three key elements.
Know Who You Are
Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." While that's a little harsh, it does make the point that everyone must examine his or her life to pinpoint a "moral compass"--or true values. Memorable leaders know their values, why they are important and how they play out in life.
You can't have one set of values in your work life and a different set in your personal life. You take your set of values with you everywhere, and a mess-up in one area of life can easily affect another.
Getting to know yourself starts with honesty--with others and yourself. While most people have "cash register" honesty, meaning they'd never steal money from their employer, they aren't always honest in other ways. Perhaps they tell the world they value one thing, yet display something else. For example, some people tout the value of hard work and claim they work harder than anyone else. Yet when you really look, you find that they're spending most of the day on long conversations that have little to do with work or are surfing the Internet--things that don't advance the company. That's not personal honesty or personal awareness.
If you're having trouble knowing who you are and what you stand for, ask a trusted colleague or family member for feedback. You can also do a formal 360-degree feedback assessment, which enables others to give objective insight on how they view you.
Know Your Vision
A Harvard Business School professor once said, "The only thing a CEO needs to do is communicate their vision, communicate their vision, and then communicate their vision." If you don't know where you're going and tell others where you're going, then you and everyone around you will lose the way. With all the things employees have going on in their lives, they're distracted during some of the week, so it's easy to get off-track. Memorable leaders keep communicating the vision so everyone is always on the same page.
Living your vision and your company's core values means everyone--those you report to and those who report to you--knows the vision as well. If you don't understand your company's vision or core values, have a conversation with your boss. Without vision and values, both companies and people lose their way. For example, in a manufacturing company, getting the product out on time isn't a core value and has nothing to do with the company's vision. In order to have a healthy and synergistic team, people need to connect to something bigger than a goal of moving product. Vision and values make the difference.
Communicating a vision does not mean the leader needs to be talkative. Many memorable leaders are quiet and reserved, such as Presidents Truman and Eisenhower. People follow memorable leaders because they exemplify their vision, not just tout it.
Being open to learning new things and admitting your limitations and your struggles gives you power; it's not a weakness. People don't want to follow a robot. They want to know that whoever they're following is real.
Memorable leaders teach other leaders and are interested in the development of people beneath them. Be in touch with your direct reports and learn their dreams, goals and career aspirations.
Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, once said, "Leaders are readers." Know what's going on in all industries, not just your own. Staying too focused on one viewpoint makes you one-dimensional. Creativity comes from combining what you know with what other leaders know and then adapting it to your own industry in order to improve or innovate. That's why "overview" publications like Harvard Business Review, Forbes and Inc. are favorites of memorable leaders.
While few people are natural born leaders, most executives can learn to be a memorable leader and have people lining up, asking to work for them. All it takes is a commitment to lead others in a way that reflects your deepest values, embraces your vision and encourages lifelong learning. The more you commit to practicing and living these three keys, the more memorable you'll be.
Jean Kelley is an author, entrepreneur and managing director of the Jean Kelley Leadership Alliance in Tulsa, Okla. She can be reached at (918) 496-9192 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted from the November 2011 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.