In our book Meditations of an Army Ranger: A Warrior Philosophy for Everyone, Dr. Alice Atalanta and I discuss the characteristics of a leader in Book 3, Chapter 22. While we recognize that there are many characteristics needed to lead effectively, we highlight four specifically: Loyalty, Humility, Curiosity, and Empathy. Our argument goes: while other characteristics can be debated, leaders must have these four attributes to be truly great, and without these four, you can only be relegated to “good enough.”
The other day my partner at Prodromos Leadership, Jim Stagnitta, and I were discussing these four traits, as we discuss them frequently with our clients, and came upon an interesting aspect that we hadn’t considered. Our idea? That to have action-oriented leadership you not only needed to develop these four characteristics (all of which are learned and not inherent to our human nature), but you needed to exercise them – or rather make them active aspects of your leadership. Makes sense – to lead is an action, so by nature, if these four traits are required of great leaders, they needed to be action words. In short, you can’t just have these traits – you need to use them.
This led to another discovery: If you make these traits active, they are naturally symbiotic. To be curious you need humility; and humility leads to curiosity. What’s more, if you exercise loyalty you by nature must implement empathy; and if you apply empathy, you must be loyal to whatever you are empathetic to. Made sense. But then…
I ran the illustration below by my closest confidant, Jennifer Waters, someone who can always find the holes in an idea and facilitate the repairs to make that idea meaningful.
What she said, made me re-think the entire idea. Her words? Simple. She stated that there are many people who exercise curiosity every day, and that doesn’t make them humble. Sometimes they are curious for self-serving interests; sometimes they are curious because it is polite; and sometimes they are curious because they think they are supposed to be, but are not really interested. She said, curiosity doesn’t always lead to humility.
She went on. Empathy doesn’t always lead to loyalty. Some people are empathetic, but only for a moment. They don’t take the next action toward loyalty and deed. Certainly, they are beyond sympathetic, but they don’t go that extra step toward loyalty. In addition to this truism, she also argued that loyalty doesn’t always conjure empathy. She talked about folks who are loyal to an idea, or a thing, and their loyalty actually prevents them from being empathetic toward others.
She was spot on. I guess that, while the initial argument of those characteristics truly make great leaders, the symbiosis of them was a bridge too far. But then she said the most important thing that could make this Venn Diagram not only tenable, but executable. She said “None of those traits lead to the others, unless they are AUTHENTIC”.
That was it! Authentic! The execution of these traits had to be authentic! It had to be real! While I had made the initial assumption that it was a given these were authentic, the realization that the execution of these characteristics in an inauthentic way, wasn’t just bad leadership, it would undermine any leadership completely.
With this new information, the Venn Diagram changed in a minor, yet profound way, to the below illustration.
So, for leaders to be great, they must practice authentic leadership – authentic leaders practice the true traits of curiosity (not because you have to, but because you are really curious), humility (because you must be humble to admit what you don’t know), empathy (because to truly lead, you must put yourself in the shoes of others), and loyalty (because without the loyalty to your people, empathy is a fruitless emotion). They are all linked. They work together in harmony. They ebb and flow naturally with each other. They do this only when you are an authentic leader.
Now go forth and be authentic! Autentici Semper!
J.C. Glick served in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer for 20 years, primarily in special operations and special missions units with more than 11 combat tours. Since retiring from the military, J.C. has brought his innovative and unconventional thoughts on education, leadership, and resiliency into the private sector, consulting with Fortune 500 companies, the NFL, NBA, NCAA, and professional sports teams including the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, and the Charlotte Hornets.
He is considered a thought leader in adaptive and proactive programs of instruction centered on the development of leadership behaviors and values suited to dynamic environments and situations of ambiguity and adversity. J.C. recently developed the “Prodromos Developmental Model”, a capacity-building system designed to develop people and leaders for the future, which is outlined in his book. His methods have been featured in Forbes Magazine and the Huffington Post and his work has been referenced in Forbes, Inc., and Entrepreneur.