“Leadership” is a word often used in business and life. Parents are thought to be leaders of their children. Executives are thought to be leaders of their businesses. In fact, anyone who holds some distinguished title or position, is thought to be a leader. But what does Leadership really look like? What are the qualities that make up a real leader?
I discovered real leadership qualities in July of 2013, when I travelled home to the islands of The Bahamas. I went to spend a few months with my Aunt Winifred, or “Aunt Winnie,” as she was affectionately known. It was then, during her final 3 months on Earth, that I learned what leadership really looks like and what real qualities it takes every day to be a true leader.
John Maxwell, my mentor, who has been voted to be the number one leadership guru by Inc. Magazine, says this about leadership:
“Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”
Aunt Winnie: An Everyday Leader
While that might sound too simple to be true, John is right. You see, no one influenced me more in life than my Aunt Winnie. You might ask, why? Well, it was really all about her simple approach to living. An approach which demonstrated the true qualities of leadership each day.
First, let me tell you just a little bit about my Aunt Winnie. She grew up on a small island, seven miles wide and 21 miles long. Aunt Winnie never married, and never had kids of her own. She never held a leadership position or owned a big company. In fact, she worked hard every day as a sales clerk for over 50 years.
She never earned any college degrees. Her education stopped in the sixth grade when she began working to help her mother pay the family bills. She never knew what it felt like to own a home, or to have people working for her. How could she be a leader? She was a leader because she influenced me tremendously, and “leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”
You are probably asking how she led? I am glad you asked. You see, her leadership was evident in her everyday life. She demonstrated 4 key leadership qualities, living them out daily.
Be a Listener.
You could tell Aunt Winnie anything and know that she was listening to you. She had that welcoming smile that said, in a silent voice, “Tell me, what’s on your mind?” She was always interested in what you had to say. Anyone who spoke with her always enjoyed their conversation. Aunt Winnie taught me that a great quality of leadership is listening to others with an ear to understand.
Be an Encourager.
Aunt Winnie was the consummate cheerleader. She was a great encourager, constantly telling me how proud she was of me. Her quality of encouraging others was even more on display in the three months I spent with her. You see, at age 69, she was diagnosed with cancer. Even as I watched her fight for her life during that time, she encouraged me to live each day to the fullest.
Sometimes, when we are in leadership roles, we think we must act a certain way. Aunt Winnie showed me that a true quality of leadership is when you are yourself, authentically you! I think I loved that the most about her. She never judged. Instead, she accepted you just the way you were. She was consistently consistent, authentically authentic.
We all have known different leaders. After all, leadership has been around for a long time and can sometimes even be confusing. When anyone says, “leadership,” we each have different thoughts that come to mind. But Aunt Winnie knew that leadership was about dedication. She was totally dedicated to her family, her friends, and her job. It wasn’t a secret; after all everyone who knew her, knew it to be true.
There are certainly many qualities that could best describe leadership. Just ask Google or Warren Bennis, who said:
“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple and also that difficult.”
Real qualities of leadership are the ones lived out every day, by ordinary people like we are. Just like Aunt Winnie. Perhaps you have an ‘Aunt Winnie’ in your life or maybe you are that person to someone. Either way, I challenge you today to develop leadership as a way of life by living out these four qualities, in short:
- A Listener to understand
- An Encourager to lift up
- Authentic to be who you are
- Dedicated to serve others
I have built strong and lasting relationships because of these leadership qualities I learned from my Aunt Winnie.