5 Thoughts on Leadership from Someone Who Is Led

This is a guest post by Maranda Gibson. She is communications and public speaking writer for the AccuConference Blog. She gives advice on how to improve communication skills at networking and conference events, with her own flair. You can also follow her tips and suggestions on Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

I’m only twenty-seven. Since I finished college and started working, I have had about five years in the “real world” under my belt. However, a lot has happened in that five-year period.

Two Cyclists on a North Georgia Country Road - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/sebatl, Image #1912776

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/sebatl

Like most people right out of college, I have held a couple of different positions since entering the workforce. It’s given me a great perspective on different kinds of leaders. It has also made me think about the kind of leader I want to be when I am finally in a leadership position.

In reflecting on the different bosses I’ve had over the years, the best leaders shared these five qualities:

  1. The best leaders remember what it was like before they were leaders. My first real job out of college was a logistics job and required me to prepare shipping documents for items. It was a little overwhelming, but my boss was a great help. She started out in this same position and had been promoted into a supervisory role. As a result, she knew what I was going through. She was always very patient and understanding. She always reassured me that it was okay to ask questions. She knew there was a lot to learn.
  2. The best leaders truly believe in development. Another supervisor I had was the biggest “mentor, train, and develop” cheerleader in the entire company. She was great because I knew that I could go talk her about anything. She would be the first person to tell me how a new policy, procedure, or even a mistake was going to make me a better leader one of these days. She believed that those who were passionate about their jobs could pass that along to their employees. It is something I also plan on teaching.
  3. The best leaders praise while educating. I have a great set of people I work for (and with) who have contributed a lot of time to educating me about my responsibilities. Much of it is new to me, and I don’t always make the right call in my decision-making. While we talk about what went wrong, we also talk about what went right. It’s important because I’m a “positive reinforcement” kind of girl, and I like to hear where I’m doing well. It motivates me to achieve even more.
  4. The best leaders are also always learning. All of my leaders and mentors have spent a good deal of time studying their industry. Having worked in three different industries—logistics, travel, and telecommunications—I’ve watched as leaders adapted to change. Because of this, I know that it’s important to keep my eye on trends that will affect my company and the way I do things. To be successful, you have to stay one step ahead of the changes.
  5. The best leaders listen. I think that this might be the most important part of leadership. I’ve always been lucky enough to supervisors who understand that I’m human. Sometimes, I get stressed out. Sometimes, I’m seriously affected by my personal life. A leader who can understand it’s not always easy to “shake it off” or “leave it at home” is an inspiration. It makes me want to be even more committed and loyal.

I have enjoyed getting to learn from people who are smarter than me. I am learning some truly great skills that are shaping my future. I don’t have a clue what will happen by the time I’m thirty, but I do feel like I’m learning great leadership skills.

As someone who is still in the process of being “led” these are the characteristics that are must-have qualities in a great leader. As a leader, you are not only teaching someone a “job,” you’re also influencing what kind of a leader they will become.

Question: What leadership characteristics have the best leaders you’ve worked for shared? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.facebook.com/dyaji.charles Dyaji Charles

    So true. Thanks for reminding me on what it takes to be a leader. Am grateful it is coming from someone who is my age-mate.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      You’re welcome! Age-mates have to stick together, you know.  I think there are a lot of leaders out there who can forget that the people they are leading are watching them carefully to determine good (and bad) qualities. I could write a similar post on things I learned that make bad leaders too. 

  • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

    Good post, Maranda. One thing I personally learned from good leaders is their ability to tackle mistakes effectively. They don’t ignore mistakes. They see them. But they don’t magnify them. Instead they take appropriate actions to correct mistakes and also make sure it won’t be repeated.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      That’s a great point, Joe. Leaders are the kinds of people who can look at a mistake, fix it, and then determine how can from happening again. Another thought on that is that a great leader doesn’t shy away from mistakes. They happen but they have to be addressed. 

      • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham


  • Damilola Okuneye

    Great post here. One quality i remember a leader for was his willingness to always stand up for his subordinates and ensuring they got what they deserved even if it meant him disagreeing with management. 

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      I didn’t even think of that one but you’re right.  A leader that will “go to bat” for those under them earns the respect of their peers which is absolutely essential to manage and develop a team. 

  • http://missionallendale.wordpress.com/ Joey Espinosa

     The best leader I worked for was always open to new ideas. Where I saw 1 or 2 solutions, he had a list of 10-12. That encouraged me to always come forward and present ideas. He would ask questions, but he never would casually dismiss them.

    If I may, here’s a summary I wrote of an interview with McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner. Probably my favorite (and something else my best boss did) was support the staff publicly. Again, that gives those under you such confidence!


    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Thanks Joey! My current bosses are the same way. They encourage me to come to them with ideas no matter how small or large.  They won’t dismiss my ideas but encourage me to think of them in a different manner.  I hope that you will carry that mindset with you. 

      • http://missionallendale.wordpress.com/ Joey Espinosa

        I’m trying to carry that with me! I’m such an introspective analyzer that I get silent when I’m thinking about someone’s new idea. But I need to remember to start out by affirming their idea.

        • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

          Me too, Joey. I can spend a day or two mulling something over before inspiration strikes! 

  • http://www.frymonkeys.com Alan Kay

    Thank you for your perspective on leadership at the age of 27. I really, really wish I’d had your insight when I was your age – that was 36 years ago. It’s fantastic that we have a generation of people who are exposed to and embrace this form of enlightened thinking. I have the privilege of teaching leadership and collaboration to middle managers, most of whom are not much older than you. It’s wonderful to witness them absorbing the concept, applying it in their work and making progress right away.   

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Thank you for the compliment Alan and you’re very right.  My generation is hungry to learn and be a part of something. For some it’s the idea of working their way up to be a CEO and for others (like me) I’ve been able to thrive in a small business network.  I attribute my perspective to work and learning to my parents, I learned so much watching the way they worked. My generation has such a unique opportunity in a changing world and I hope that we get more opportunities to show the “established” crowd what we’re made of. :) 

  • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

    Great post! Great leaders listen! That’s a great one. I have seen leaders get so prideful as soon as they are promoted that they refuse to listen to input from others because they are now the “top dog”. BIG MISTAKE! 

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      I couldn’t agree more Sundi. All that not listening because they are “top dog” creates is dislike towards the leader which doesn’t make for a creative and positive atmosphere to work in. It’s true that in order to gain respect you must first give it. 

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    I enjoyed your post, Maranda. I wish some of the leaders I’ve worked for over the years were as involved with learning about leadership as you are. Leadership and team building make all the difference in the world when it comes to creating a productive and enjoyable workplace. Your five points are a great place to start.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Thank you John. I’ve always saw myself as being a “leader” in some form. I was the person who used to take control on school projects and make everyone in my group work when all they wanted to do was sit around and talk. I think that might also make me a nerd. :) What’s really amazing about the progression of the office environment is that these principals of team building are still evolving and we are the people who will continue to change the way leaders interact with their team. 

  • Anonymous

    I’d add: The primary characteristic of any leader is they must be able to be led, no matter what level of the organization they’re at. If you cannot take instruction or direction, you cannot give it. Leadership is not something you attain, as in one day you’re not a leader, the next day you’ve been promoted to the role of leader; it is something you nurture.

    Maranda, I would advise you to personally think of yourself as a leader now. It is not something you’re “finally going to be”; you are one now: within your peer group, yes, but even within your professional life. You may not have an official leadership role, but if you don’t begin to nurture your leadership, by actually risking and mentoring others, you will never attain the leadership roles you could. That first boss you had got her promotion simply because she lead among her peers when she wasn’t a supervisor, so when the opportunity of a supervisory role came, the company knew who to put there.

    You’ve been in the “real world” for five years, that means you’ve got five years more experience than the grads getting into the “real world” now; become an unofficial leader to them, now, and you’ll become an official leader sooner.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Very insightful Dan & you are definitely right. It’s a lot like what @sundijo:disqus commented on – sometimes a person gets to a “leadership” role and they get a little prideful (and maybe a bit arrogant). Nurturing those qualities not only makes you a better leader, but it also means you’ll always be learning from the people around you. 

      :) Thank you for the encouragement! We’ve recently brought an intern into our office and I’m getting the chance to help mentor her as she works on her advertising degree. It has been a great chance to put some of these principals into action. 

  • Jerry

    Thank you, Maranda; you have great insight. When I was 27, I had spent several years as a military officer and lived with my wife in Europe almost the entire time; had just finished grad school; our first daughter was born that year; and was embarking upon a corporate career. Yet, I had not grasped much real life as yet. You seem to be on the right side of the curve. 
    The best leaders I have worked for genuinely cared about their people (for some, they were great listeners but not all); did what had to be done to keep the organization moving, whether on the road to energize the organization or out raising funds in difficult financial times; I trusted them; maybe because they did what they said they would do or tell you why not. Their credibility was strong.One characteristic that was particularly important to me was their belief in me when I was not so sure about myself. I’ve seen the same leaders not be so gracious to some others but still demonstrated a genuine care about them within the context of a difficult personnel situation. This distinctive belief is one that stands out and has for years in my mind. 

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      I try to be on the right side of the curve but I have been known to veer off on the grass a time or two. You bring up an excellent point in your comment about trusted leaders who told you why not.  A lot of people forget that in the leadership role – no one expects you to say “yes” all of the time, but when you have to say no, a good reason why is always appreciated. Being a leader is a lot like being a parent in that sense and a “because I said so” isn’t going to cut it with a lot of people. 

      Also – as an Air Force brat I have to say a very kind and warm thank you for your service. 

  • Joy

    Completely agree with this post. I am 29 so I can relate to this entirely. I think another great characteristic of a great leader I’ve worked with is their willingness to TRUST… let me take an idea and run with it. In order to grow into a leader, that type of experience is necessary and so important. If someone was always telling me what to do, how to do it, when to do it, etc…I’d never grow and learn myself. Trusting in me to do a good job is key. I think it allows us to coach our leaders and bring new ideas to the table, yet still allows us to learn from our leaders if it would have been more effective done a different way, etc.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Joy, the concept of “coaching our leaders” is something that so many people forget. Piggy backing on that point, great leaders also let their employees tell them how to be lead. Not everyone is the same and someone who can respect that and adapt to individual needs gains even more respect. 

      I absolutely love your point about trust. We need more leaders who are willing to trust and turn over the reins to an employee. Personal accomplishment is a huge factor in motivation. 

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    That was awesome Maranda. All those are insightful. Some add-ons to your points:
    — The best leaders manage the dream.
    — The best leaders embrace error.
    — The best leaders possess the Nobel Factor: optimism, faith, and hope.
    — The best leaders understand the value of collaboration and they create strategic alliances and partnerships.
    — The best leaders are able to see the long view amidst chaos and confusion surrounding them.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Manage the dream – that’s an interesting one, Uma. What do you mean by that one? I think I understand, just want to make sure we’re on the same page. 

      The Nobel Factor – I like that. :) Leaders also have to love the chaos too. Anyone who can’t hack it in the chaos will simply transmit that down to their employees and that’s no good for anyone. These add-ons are great. I’m loving getting to see what everyone else thinks about great leaders. 

      • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

        When I say ‘manage the dream’, I mean the following —

        Best leaders have the capacity to create a compelling vision, one that takes people to a new place, and then to translate that vision into reality. I am sure every best leader I have met with had this one characteristic.
        I remember Peter Drucker once saying that “the first task of the leader is to define the mission.” Jung also wrote, “A dream that is not understood remains a mere occurrence. Understood, it becomes a living experience.” Those are great words of wisdom from the men of eminence and expertise. Best leader understands this truth and never allows his vision to expire as a mere occurrence; he ensures that it becomes a living experience. The best leader manages the dream…..by undertaking the processes like– — communicating the vision
        — recruiting meticulously
        — rewarding
        — retraining and
        — reorganizing

        Thus the process of managing the dream is seamless and gets reiterated by the leader in a cyclical mode. In a way, the best leader manages the dream by transforming the vision into reality.
        Hope I am able to clarify my understanding in a succinct way. Thanks Maranda for initiating such a reflective discussion on leadership.

        Subject: [mhyatt] Re: 5 Thoughts on Leadership from Someone Who Is Led

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      Uma always has great thoughts to add to the discussion…

      • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

        Thanks for the compliment, Jeff! I am humbled and enjoying this great virtual community here. 

        • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

          No problem, Uma!  I enjoy it too, and all the contributors create a lot for me to think about.  It’s a great community!

          • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

            Amen to that!

            Subject: [mhyatt] Re: 5 Thoughts on Leadership from Someone Who Is Led

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    Most of my work experience having been in restaurants, I’ve always found that a leader’s greatness is proportional to the square of their physical distance from me. 

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      I’ve never worked in a restaurant myself but I can imagine that it’s an absolutely crazy and stressful environment. Having worked in the travel industry I can sympathize to what can sometimes feel overwhelming. You’re also throwing in the customer factor in those environments which becomes a whole other practice in leadership. 

      • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

        Customers are easier to deal with as long as one hews to this tenet articulated by the late Steve Jobs: “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

  • HDFlanagan

    The best leaders I’ve seen were open to constructive criticism, focused, goal-oriented, careful to keep track by measuring, open to new ideas, and honest about their own failings and clearly working to better themselves.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Constructive criticism is one that a lot of leaders forget about. There are some who get to a certain level in their career that they think learning is no longer needed. Great leaders are always learning and changing. Great leaders are always improving. Thanks for your thoughts! 

  • http://roborr.net Rob Orr

    This is a really great post and gives you a great piece of insight that those in positions of authority need to hear. Points 2 and 3 are the most important in my experience. Those that are being led need to know that you as a leader believe in them and that you’re interested in helping them grow in their careers too. 

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      I can honestly say that at this point in my life the leader I referenced in #2 is the person who has had the single most important influence on me. I had never seen anyone who believed in her product like she did and she was the first person to trust me with a big project. She really made me feel like I could do something great. 

  • https://twitter.com/#!/PeterJHoppe Peter Hoppe

    Excellent thoughts, Maranda! For me, #3 has been the most influential characteristic among the best leaders with whom I have worked. I am so grateful for Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” What a classic!

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Number #3 is incredibly important. I am motivated to change the things I did wrong by knowing where I am showing success and improvement. A leader who can’t do that isn’t someone I want to work with. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000164153127 Bridget Wenman

    I agree with everything in this post. However, I think there is one thing that is really important that is missing.  Great leaders hold people accountable.  That seems to be something this next generation ( meaning the 20 somethings) seem to struggle with.   The young “emerging leaders” who will really be able to lead in the next generation will need to be able to be comfortable with being held accountable and accepting responsibility.  Those  that can learn from their mistakes are the young followers who will lead in the next generation. 

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Accountability is a very good point. There has been, at least in my opinion, a disconnect somewhere around 22 & 23 years old where the idea of “accountability” means something else – or nothing at all.  You’re totally correct – if the future leaders (meaning the people I will mentor) can’t understand how important it is to learn from mistakes it’s like hitting a wall when it comes to progress. 

  • http://www.justcris.com Cris Ferreira

    Maranda, excellent points. I’ve had 13 different managers along my career, and I completely agree with your list. 
    I would also add that the best leaders show that they care.The best managers I had were people that everyone noticed that they cared about us. They don’t see us as just another company resource, but as a person with feelings and needs.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Thanks Cris. 13 – wow. 

      I would agree with you about leaders and caring. Feeling like I have a team mate and an advocate in a leader is a great push towards wanting to succeed. It’s like having a friend and I want to make my friend proud of me. 

  • Darel

    I appreciate the leadership principles you are sharing.  Here is a basic problem that I am facing.  In the last few years we have had an influx of younger couples into our non-profit.  A large percentage of these couples seem to have an entitlement attitude.  At the same time, most of them while appearing to be busy, average less than 25 hours per week in productive “work”.  Because of the nature of our non-profit there is no way to actually know how much time is actually being spent ‘working’ as opposed to surfing the net, taking care of their children, or just in busy work that has nothing to do with our objectives.  It is very difficult to get into our organization and harder to be fired.  How do you lead someone who has a dislike for accountability, hard work and is basically lazy and taking advantage of an organization’s grace?

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Hi Darel – I’m sorry that you’ve been encountering couples like that. I think that in your situation, if possible, I would require them to have some kind of accountability process. If you can (and I’m not sure with the nature of what your non-profit requires) have them provide some solid numbers. Some younger people (under the age of 25, in my experience) don’t entirely understand the payoff to putting their nose down to the grindstone and really getting into hard work.  You could show them examples of people who have changed their lives with the principals of hard work as a place to start. 

      If anyone has any other suggestions for Darel, please weigh in. 

    • http://www.lionstand.com Jamie O’Donoghue

      I have to agree with Amanda here. An accountability process is essential especially if trust is being established.

      I’m not sure how much influence you have or what the culture of the non-profit is but changing the compensation structure to results orientated rather than time could be an option.

  • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

    Great post! Fortunately I have never had to work under a terrible leader so I have had several good examples of what it is to be a good leader. I liked your point about remembering what it was like before leading. I think that is a difficult one but it is so helpful! As a Youth Minister I try to remember what it was like when I was just a volunteer or I remember what my parents would discuss about our Youth Minister while I was growing up and I try to do a better job. Communication is huge! It is important to communicate to those following your leadership when the do a good job, where they need to improve (and explain how), be there to answer questions, and even doing regular reviews with them so they can communicate back to you.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Thank you Brandon. 

      Your point about communication is excellent. Why work for someone if you can’t talk to them, express frustrations, share excitement, and other things going on? Every leader is a little different in the realm of how they operate but being open is one of the first steps to great leadership. 

  • http://www.betterhealthtoday.co Kay Wilson

    My mentors and leaders have taught me to be flexible and adaptable to changes in the way I do my business.  I am a health & nutrition coach and gone are the days when when I could say “I don’t know about that, all I know is I feel great and this is what I did,” In this information age, my clients want to know so much more than my testimonial.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Being able to change is essential, Kay. Without that, you’ll never be able to move beyond what you are and achieve more.  Things change constantly in the business world. It goes back to leaders who are willing to educate themselves every single day. Thanks for your comment! 

  • http://www.VictorDumitriu.ca Victor Dumitriu

    Thank you Maranda. Excellent points. 

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      You are welcome – I’m glad you liked it. 

  • http://www.checkmatesystem.com Mary

    Unfortunately, I learned what not to do in the traditional workplace.   Currently the most effective leader who is impacting us directly is Andy Stanley and his team (we attend a strategic partner church of his).  He leads powerfully through his teaching and example and we see it throughout the entire organization.  I have never been with a more positive and energetic group of people working hard towards a common goal.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Mary, I think a lot of people learn the way that you have. I am very thankful to have encountered people who want to see younger employees succeed and are willing to mentor them along the way. 

  • http://www.midwestmeetings.com Serenity J. Banks

    Maranda, from a fellow Gen Y’er, I’m afraid you almost lost me at “I’m only…”

    I’m also twenty-seven, and I’ve held leadership positions since I was nineteen. Needless to say, I agree with you that a lot can happen in a short time. From my first step into my career eight years ago, I’ve been fortunate to have been given numerous opportunities I had done nothing yet to deserve. The personal hurdle in taking on those opportunities was the removal of the “only” in my perception of me and my capabilities.

    Granted, I was lucky enough that my leaders saw the leader in me before I’d even begun to think about developing those skills, and I’m the leader I am today because of those who led me into being my full me. My early leaders taught me to stop short-changing myself for what I had yet to gain and to value what I possess in the moment. Some of the most important words I’ve ever heard: “Take out the ‘only’ and stick with ‘I am.’ “

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      I didn’t mean to lose you :) You bring up an interesting thought that I’m pondering over right now – I wonder if a lot of people in our age group are held back by that word. I’ve heard a lot about “fearing success” maybe because we don’t feel like we’ve earned it, or can’t understand why we’re worthy of it. I think I’ll be putting that advice on my wall to remind me. Good luck to you! 

  • http://www.lionstand.com Jamie O’Donoghue

    The best leader I have ever had was a man who saw that I was competent in an area and gave me the freedom to excel. It didn’t matter to him that he wasn’t the one getting the accolades for a job well done. He cared more about my development than the potential praise he could have received. That kind of leader is priceless.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Completely agree! The leader who inspired #3 understood that I had a knack for analyzing data and let me manage an entire fleet of vehicles. It was the first major undertaking I had and it gave me a lot of motivation in that position and it has carried through to now. Leaders who take development of their employees as serious as the actual success can really change the direction of a company.  

      • http://www.lionstand.com Jamie O’Donoghue

        Absolutely! It’s a great confidence boost when you have your leader believe in you.

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    I think another critical aspect for leaders to display is integrity.  Whether they are in a spiritual leadership position or not, moral and ethical integrity is key to any leader being a great leader.

    Great thoughts, Maranda! 

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Thank you Jeff! 

      I learning from you all who have taken the time to comment that it seems integrity and accountability are absolute musts for any great leader. Thanks for weighing in. 

      • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

        No problem.  Love what you wrote!

  • http://twitter.com/jamespinnick7 James Pinnick

    Listening is the key that starts it all. Its a formidable quality that I find to be the most important characteristic of a leader! Great post

    Author-The Last Seven Pages

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Thank so much James. 

  • http://darensirboughblog.wordpress.com Daren Sirbough

    The leadership characteristics have the best leaders I’ve worked for shared a passion to see me succeed in what I was aiming to achieve or in the person I was becoming. As years have gone past, I have forgotten most of what we would work on, but I remember the spirit in which they mentored, trained, guided me.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Daren – this is a sentiment that many of the wonderful comments have echoed. It’s one thing to have a leader that wants to teach you and it’s another to have a leader that really wants to see you succeed. Those are two very different qualities.  Thank you! 

  • http://twitter.com/CoachTheresaIF Theresa Ip Froehlich

    Maranda, These are great reflections on leadership. It tells those who lead what they need to be effective. Too often, leaders lead from “positional power”, not from “relational influence”.

    I think the best analogy of leadership is parenting. The important question to ask is: are the people I’m leading developing into leaders? Do I have their best interests in mind?

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      That’s a great point about parenting, Theresa! I would add that another question to ask yourself while leading would be “how will this person remember me?” Personally, I would hope that one of these days someone writes a blog post about how I inspired their leadership style. Thanks for your thoughts! 

  • http://twitter.com/StephenSauls Stephen Sauls

    Great post, Maranda!  I’m inspired to see someone younger joining the leadership conversation!  If you don’t mind, I thought I would humbly submit to the conversation another “best practice” that I see ignored often:

    The best leaders understand that, “this is how I had to do it when I started!” is NOT effective or wise leadership. 

    Many supervisors put their new hires through the same horrible conditions they experienced when they first started.  A wise leader would ask him or herself what aspects of their first few years shaped them positively and negatively; adjusting a new hires development accordingly.  At best, this tactic is seen as a kind of initiation and will give you “street cred'” with those who share this experience. 

    However, I believe this practice reeks of deeper issues and should be a red flag pointing to your bosses low leadership ceiling.  This way of thinking is small-minded in that it never looks outside of its own experience for improvement.  It is prideful in that it thinks its own way is the best way implying that who they are is who you should aspire to be.  It ignores market demand in favor of its own personal preference.  And, most discouragingly, it is the definition of lazy.

    Let’s multiply the positive influence of our first years by improving the first years of those who come behind us!

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      That’s a really interesting point Stephen! There are a large numbers of managers who do focus in on the newbies having to “pay their dues” and want them to learn the same way. I have to wonder if that particular manager was ever happy before they were given the supervisory role. 

      • Anonymous

        I think that there is value in “paying your dues” as a strategy for adopting a new hire into the organizational culture or for teaching some organizational values.  But, all too often it seems to be an opportunity to exert positional power and to be a lazy leader.

        I agree that they probably were not happy before their new supervisory role.  One would think their unhappiness would point towards something that at least deserves consideration for change.  But instead it becomes bad organizational DNA… like inbreeding.

        • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

          Inbreeding. Nice — I’ll be pondering that one all afternoon. :) 

          I believe to some extent in paying your dues, but it becomes a problem when, as you say it becomes an opportunity to exert power. 

  • Patrick

    Very much appreciated the post.  Good insights. Well written.  I’m also intrigued by the comments.  Clearly, the post has resonated … or more particularly it looks like the blog has resonated with Millennial’s.   In fact, I first read the post, thought “Hmm that sounds familiar”, and then paid attention to the fact that it was a guest pos, written by a Millennial Gen author.  Let me be clear, I’m not making a value statement with that, just an observation.

    I happen to be a 50 something year old, 5 time CEO.  I’ve typically worked in high tech startups, but also a tech media company and a venture capital firm.  Read: A huge percentage of our employees have been Millennial’s lately.  And by the way, I happen to have 4 Millennial’s who call me dad. So I think I can say with some confidence there is a bit of a culture divide here, and it’s interesting how it plays out in the workplace.  

    One of the interesting questions is should Boomer Gen CEOs like me adapt the culture and leadership to satisfy the Millennial’s, or are there some issues about motivation, work, and leadership where it might be useful for the Millennial’s to shift?

    I’m really not sure of the answer.  I do think, though, it might be as useful for Millennial’s to grapple with the question as it is for grey haired leaders like myself.

    If interested, an insightful book is:  The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation is Shaking Up the Workplace.  Incidentally, the main criticism I’ve heard about the book is that it assumes the answer is the workplace and leaders need to accommodate the Millennial view.  

    I suspect learning and growth from each end might be most useful.

    • http://twitter.com/StephenSauls Stephen Sauls

      Hey Patrick, good insight from a different generation! I don’t want to speak for Maranda, but to me it seems that her post isn’t asking the workplace to conform to Millenials, rather, she is simply pointing out leadership characteristics that have added value to her. 

      In response to your question, I’m not sure the workplace culture should change to “satisfy” anyone, young or old.  It’s not about satisfying an employee, it’s about leading as effectively as one can for maximum organizational success / goal attainment.  I’m afraid your approach seemed like an “Us” versus “Them” perspective.  I think as a team both groups add value to the organization and if organizational success is our real goal then we will work hard to lead and follow as effectively as possible.  This obviously means that Millenials need to step up and do their part. But it also means that Boomer Gens need to see that everyone conforming to them is a poor leadership strategy.


      • Patrick

        Stephen,  Good thoughts.  I agree that the goal isn’t to “satisfy”, but then again, it’s hard to lead and get maximum performance from people who don’t feel satisfied in the workplace. And I can tell you, folks from the Millennial generation come with much higher expectations for rapid and consistent satisfaction in the workplace.  So there is an element of “catering” to the workplace.

        WRT us vs them. Not what I intend. However, I can tell you it’s more common for leaders with more years of  life and work experience to have more perspective on the differences.  So it’s common to find Sr Leaders who are aware of the Millennial factor versus the approach of Boomers, for instance, to work, motivation, and leadership.  It is more rare to find a Millennial who understands the difference and is self aware on the point.  Again, most Millennials (again in my experience) simply think the way they view work, and the expectations they have on leadership are normative.  

        Again, I think the post here is very good.  But I also think it has a distinctly Millennial flavor and character to it.  The issue is if you aren’t self aware of the differences, might turn out to be an important blind spot to discover.  

        It is common for Sr Leaders to be aware of the Millennial effect, and to be grappling with what to do in light of it as leaders.  Probably as an effect of life experience, it is much less common to find Millennials aware. That’s why I thought it might be useful to highlight the book I suggested.  I suspect folks from the Millennial generation might find it as interesting, illuminating, and useful as folks on my end of the generational and leadership spectrum.

        • Stephen Sauls

          Hey again Patrick.  Thanks for the thoughtful response!

          You’re right.  Millenials do carry different expectations into the work place that Boomers may not have.  They see a lot of prosperity and want to be on the same level of success as they see their 50+ year old parents (hopefully) having.

          I also agree that Millenials do need to be aware of the difference between their perspective and those of Boomers.  It would benefit themselves, the Boomers, and the organization. 

          However, I’m not sure it’s wrong of Millenials to ask Boomers to adjust too.  Millenials automatically have to adjust to the organizations they’re a part of.  The job market is much more difficult for those starting out now than Boomers experienced (in my understanding).  Therefore, Millenials have to adjust or get not hired or fired quickly.  I feel like Millenials are asking for some understanding in return instead of a “my way or the highway” approach that a lot of supervisors take.  Boomers have created the current organizational systems to produce the results they’re currently getting and don’t “have” to change unless they choose to. 

          I also think that what Boomers can take away from this is that if the Millenial generation is full of more lazy / non-starters who don’t understand the workplace, then they need to note that high value Millenials are more interested in Mentoring Leaders and Visionary Causes than incentives, benefits, and Christmas bonuses.  The reward of great leadership is of greater value to Millenials and costs less money but more time and understanding from the Boomers who are hopefully moving into the “Sage” or wise mentoring leader phase of their lives.

          Maybe putting the time into being a “mentoring leader” can be a Win / Win.  You get the creme of the Millenial crop and save the organization money while reaching a new demographic.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

       @twitter-17540071:disqus you’ve stolen the words right out of my mouth! (Give them back.) 

      Patrick, I don’t believe for a second we are facing a situation where one side has to conform to the other. You’re absolutely right that growth and learning from each end is the most useful and the situations I’m personally referring to are those leaders I have encountered.  Some of them even from the Boomer Gen. 

      One thing I am discovering from all of these comments is that employees, managers, and even CEOs from every generation have a lot to learn about the other.  Younger generations may see their bosses and “behind the times” while they are being views as entitled and demanding.  I don’t think I’m out of line by saying that there are plenty of workplaces that still exist in the world where people are “stuck in their ways” and these ways are being proven to be a detriment to a company. 

      This post is simply my thoughts as someone in my generation who sees great qualities in the people of your generation. 

  • http://www.jennbyham.com Jenn

    Wow! Great post. It’s awesome to hear I am not the only one thinking about this.
    I’m also 27 and held several different positions since I graduated from college and grad school. One thing I have noticed that is a similar trait in all the leaders I admire is there servant leadership. All of the aspects you mentioned are great, but the leaders that are willing serve first rather than being served are the ones I want to emulate.
    I had the opportunity to learn from Don Soderquist – COO of Walmart. Here is a guy who has been incredibly successful and can snap his fingers and things get done. Instead he would be the first to notice if I needed anything – a cup of coffee or a pat on the back. Nothing was too little of a task for him. I took a business trip with him where I was the one responsible for making sure we got to every where we needed to go. I wanted to make sure he had everything he needed. Instead of looking out for himself, I would find him loading my luggage or looking out for me. That is the kind of leader I want to be.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Hi Jenn! Wow – what a different personal experience is going to make on this one.  I think it’s great that Don has that kind of attitude and leadership style. It makes me sad to know that his feelings don’t exactly trickle down the chain of command in his stores. It’s refreshing to know that the COO of that company is doing great things for the people who will eventually run his company. 

      • http://www.jennbyham.com Jenn

        You’re right. I should have said former COO. :) A lot has changed since his time there.  And doesn’t personal experience always make the difference? We make assumptions (good and bad) on leaders/organizations all the time without the full details or fully knowing them… Sad, but true.

  • Jack Lynady

    Not sure how this fits, but the best leaders leave a legacy. Something is better in the world long after their leadership role is gone. And I don’t mean a building with their name on it, but something much more intangible.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      I would hope that’s the overall goal of any leader, Jack. It’s a great goal for leaders to have. 

  • http://www.OurStoriesGodsGlory.blogspot.com Elise Daly Parker

    Excellent post Maranda. You are clearly paying attention and I’m sure that will lead to a position of leadership in the not too distant future. I am inspired. Your post has lots of good food for thought, both for me to consider as a leader and as one being led. I know one way I don’t want to lead. I don’t want to lead through criticism and negativity. It is so uninspiring to work for someone who seems to find the one thing you didn’t do right amidst the many things you’ve done well.
    The leaders I’ve admired the most include my father, who, even as CEO always had his door open to any employee at any level if they wanted to talk. He also demonstrated the importance of family. As a child, especially a teenager, I knew I could call his office anytime and get through, if at all possible. If he was in a meeting and could not be disturbed, he would call back as soon as he could. Another great leadership quality is someone who is not threatened by employees who shine, but truly want to bring the best out of everyone to the benefit of all.
    Thanks again and all the best to you. You’re on your way!!

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Thank you Elise! I really appreciate the kind words and encouragement of everyone who is involved in this great conversation today. I’m happy to hear the perspective of someone who lingers somewhere around the middle. Inspiration is the most powerful way you can lead. 

      Dad’s are great like that aren’t they? My dad was recently made a VP and he’ll answer my calls no matter what. I have learned so much from him and his parenting style. And you’re so right… I’ve always heard the same  about hiring employees that shine. 

  • http://talesofwork.com kimanzi constable

    The best leaders that I have personally exprienced have always led by example, they’ve put aside their pride (wanting to get the credit) and they don’t mirco manage. Awesome post Maranda

  • Seth Millican

    These are great points.  Amazingly, they all relate back to one simple concept: stay humble and down to earth.  Remember where you came from and the people who made you what you’ve become.  As one who “follows” alot of people, I can say that I’m far more likely to follow and respect someone who remains humble.  

  • http://www.bradandlindsey.com Brad Bridges

    The first thought you mention was powerful to me. Many times I’ve found myself saying, “When I’m at their stage in life, I’m not going to act like that.” Hopefully I’ll remember these things and actually live them out. 

    Some characteristics good leaders in my life have shared are: seeking input, trust (ie not micromanaging and creative freedom), support during difficult times, and strategic vision.

  • http://www.irunurun.com Travis Dommert

    Great post, Maranda.  

    This topic was front and center at the close of the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta today.  Andy Stanley was AWESOME…he shared that our role as leaders (at every age) is NOT to be the smartest or to have all the answers.  

    It is NOT to fill the cups of others…it is merely to EMPTY OURS by pouring what we have, what we know, what we’ve experienced into others coming up behind us.  He encouraged everyone, especially young leaders…NOT TO WAIT.  We will NEVER be fully ready.  We will NEVER know it all.  

    He shared how the 6th graders pour what they have into the 1st and 2nd graders.  The high school kids pour what they have learned into the middle-schoolers.  Etc.  Etc.  As 20-somethings, you can pour into those teens.  Anyone who is complaining about the generation coming up behind them has themselves to blame if they haven’t poured what they have into that gen.  How else will they learn?

    This struck me as great, authentic leadership.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Great thoughts Travis and I would have to completely agree about what Andy says regarding teaching teens. I’ve seen it work too – When I gradated college only one other person in my very large family had accomplished it and I took a lot of time to tell my cousins why they should go on with their education after high school. Now they are both enrolled in universities and I hope they pass that along to the generation of kids that will be next.  

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Travis, I agree. Andy knocked it out at the conference. His talk about emptying our cups has been the talk of our leaders and I’m sure it will be for quite some time.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    A friend in leadership constantly amazes me by his willingness to enter into uncomfortable conversations, the kind I’d want to avoid. He faces criticism with great dignity and grace.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Sounds like he’s a standup man. Ofttimes the uncomfortable conversations are the ones that make us grow.

      • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

        Integrity defines my friend and I’m thankful and blessed to know him.

  • Mnelson1113

    The best leaders are the ones who are also in the trenches doing what they are instructing you to do. They are not telling you to do something that they are not willing to do themselves

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Good point! It is much easier to do a difficult task after seeing or knowing your leader has been there and done it. Otherwise it can come off as the leader is passing the buck to you because he doesn’t want to do it.

  • http://jameseckvahl.wordpress.com James Eckvahl

    I managed people for 29 yeares and then decided to return to school full time.  I took a part time job to help with my expenses.  Wow what an eye opener.  Your article brings up many of the lessons I am walking through. 

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Thanks James! Kudos to you for heading back to school – Good luck! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/louise.thaxton Louise Thaxton

    I truly love your points on qualities of a leader – much wisdom for someone so young!  I like what you said about we are influencing what kind of leader the ones we lead will become.  Leaders training leaders. 

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      Thank you Louise! My mother always said I was an “old soul”. It’s truly a cycle – a previous comment mentioned the idea of leading as parenting, and it’s very true. 

  • Rob Sorbo

    Good stuff. I’m just about at the same point in life as you (27 years old, 4 years in the workforce). I’ve had some great and terrible bosses in the last four years. Fortunately, my current manager is someone who excels in all five of those areas. It makes such a huge difference!

    One thing that I would add is that a good boss helps shape a good team. My manager always takes her time when hiring, and she chooses to not hire a lot of great applicants. The result is a great team of people who work hard and enjoy being around each other.

    • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

      That’s a great point, Rob.  Hiring people who will “mesh” well with the current office is important. I think there are some out there who would rather have warm bodies than true teammates. 

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    Thanks for sharing Maranda! You made some really great points in your post. I points 1, 4, and 5 are the most important with number 4 being the most important. A leader who is not learning grows stagnant and peters out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/greg.brent Greg Brent

    Awesome post!  As leaders, either in an appointed role or based on experience and background, we often hurry through the day and forget about these important ideas.

    I think more companies and organizations should remind their people, at all levels, of the importance of these qualities and how much better off their organization will be for incorporating them into their culture.

    Thanks again,

  • Guest


  • Alexander Tiedemann

    What you do can inspire other people. You can give them hope and a path to follow. You are a leader. You have what it takes to change people’s emotions for the better. Congratulations!


  • http://www.facebook.com/GeorgeDGregory George Gregory

    The best leaders are the ones who respect those under them enough to listen. Every time I’ve seen a company go off the rails, a contributing factor has been their inability to hear what the people on the floor are saying. 
    Respect begets respect. Be loyal and fair to your employees and they will return the favour.

  • http://www.robinsonleadership.com/ Toronto strategy consultant

    A good leader knows how to lead a team correctly. In my opinion, communication, listening and determination as well are some really important skills. These days, it’s great that we can learn about this from some leadership camps, which are very useful if we were named as team leaders.

  • Kranthi Edward

     Great post! Great leaders listen! That’s a great one. I have seen
    leaders get so prideful as soon as they are promoted that they refuse to
    listen to input from others because they are now the “top dog”. BIG


  • bestledcompany

    good article… thanks for sharing 

  • http://www.facebook.com/quintessential.leader Quintessential Leader

    I very much appreciated this guest post on learning what makes leaders great. I am fortunate enough to have had one of those early in my career, and I paid tribute to him, and what I learned from him in this post: http://quintessentialldr.com/2012/05/24/the-most-quintessential-leader-in-my-experience/.

    One of the things I learned is that people are learning how to lead from me. The gravity of knowing that and being responsible for that is never far from my mind and it makes me do constant self-checks to make sure I’m modeling quintessential leadership and nothing less.