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  • Zarmina Penner

Outstanding Leaders Never Do As If

Updated: Oct 14

What Outstanding Leaders know about True and Sustainable Success


Much like crows, new and shiny things attract us. Innovation, well-designed, keeps us eternally mesmerized. Just watch the feed on this platform. New, newer, very new.

Thankfully, and as history shows, there is nothing new and shiny in human behavior. At least it is one area in life that isn't a moving target. When it comes to technology, there may be seemingly new and shiny things coming through. Most of them, we will realize with some investigation, is a copy too and not as useful as marketed. Thankfully again, if we discern well, we can keep up-to-date quite easily.  


Therefore, I am amazed at how many supposedly new ideas about management and leadership pop up almost everywhere. Some of them are good (meaning helpful), but they are not new, just insightful, and useful reminders, as we tend to forget. It feels good to cut free from endless marketing, and sales speak touting new stuff. It can get tiring. As one would say, there is nothing new under the sun. We need not jump from theory to theory and from thing to thing.


The essential things to know are timeless. That is why I observe and listen to business people who have lived their lives successfully in a consistent manner, are healthy, and happy with their achievements and in their relationships.

Thinking back to some great real-life leaders I have known, I compiled a list of leadership habits that made them unique and outstanding in my eyes. I find it helpful to ground myself in what has undeniably worked over a long period of time.


The leaders I have chosen are those many others also respect as role models. Some of them were my clients, and some I worked for as an employee. Each one was one of a kind, but they shared the following eleven characteristics and habits.


1- KINDNESS AND VALUES: They were genuinely kind, but not in an overt way. It was their essence. They could be tough in negotiations and decision-making, but there was a line they would not cross to get their way. Being even slightly cruel or demeaning was not an option.


2- SHARING WITH SERVICE IN MIND: They shared what they knew as much as they could. And they shared often. They did not make others guess their thoughts. They did not feel special because they knew more. Instead, they made it clear that what they knew was not enough. Therefore they truly listened to other opinions. They adapted their conclusions based on input. They could not share all that they knew, but there was a sense of "if they could, they would." We felt safe and informed. They had our backs.


3- SELF-ESTEEM AND ESTEEM FOR OTHERS: They had high self-esteem and had a laid-back and humble attitude at the same time. This is a unique mixture that is not commonplace. Almost everyone in the company, independent of their positions, felt a connection with them. The relationship was mutually respectful. They saw everybody and their contributions. They were present, available, and approachable.


4- UNPRETENTIOUS COMMUNICATION: They could hold an audience; they didn't need to speak loud or too long. What was said was well thought out, put into the right words and the right tonality. Some were more extroverted and rhetorically talented than others, but that was not what made them special. What made them special was that they were saying their minds unapologetically without any pretense or airs. That way, their message came across loud and clear. They pointed out the good, the bad, and the ugly with the same stance. And we listened because we knew it was relevant. In times of crisis, we felt appreciated and comforted, and at other times we found inspiration for our work in the words.


5- IMMUNE TO POLITICS: They did not do politics. Naturally, every company has some politics. They did what they needed to do, but they did not entertain politics or play a specific role. Magically, since they were superb in their productivity and in leading their people, they were untouchable, made their own rules, and sailed through. They were opinionated and decisive, sometimes polarizing, but in a non-dramatic way, and usually got what they went after. 


6- RELIABLE FOLLOW-UP:  They made notes and followed up on promises. They didn't forget. Nobody was left hanging; not as an effort to be kind to others; it was just their principle. They were very busy but not too busy to forget their work ethics. It was their style, and everyone followed suit. They expected you to behave similarly, and quite naturally, we grew into it.


7- EXTREME PRECISION: They were meticulous in their crafts without being pedantic. It gave them a sense of pleasure to give their absolute attention to whatever they did: A conversation, a note, a presentation, a decision, anything. How they did one thing was how they did everything. Their habits inspired me to clean up my act. I remember making a point of going over my emails to others repeatedly to implement the same style. I am sure others followed suit.


8- IMMUNE TO ATTENTION: They did not need admiration, praise, or attention of others to feel good or as a leader. Since they were in tune with and accepting of themselves, they didn't suffer this common addiction.


9- QUIET SELF-REFLECTION: They didn't complain about things, but I could feel them sometimes suffer through their everyday experiences. Behind the neutral facade, one could sense a human being going through life with its ups and downs. With this habit, they naturally became compassionate and sensitive to others. Most of them, not all, had a sound support system outside work. They were not afraid to feel and accept their humanness.


10- LOVE FOR LEADERSHIP: They enjoyed what they did. Being a leader was not just a way to move up the ladder. They truly enjoyed working with people and playing the business game, each in their field. Hard workers themselves, they expected us to put in the effort or go, but in the light of their personality, we put in even more energy. We were energized and inspired to do so, not only for them but for ourselves. Self-development and growth was ongoing, not a solitary or planned activity.


11- NOT DOING AS IF: In organizations, there are invariably people who put on a facade and play a role. For some, it may feel professional to hold back who they are and what they think and act out a part. Great leaders I have encountered demonstrate the opposite: while they disciplined and trained themselves to hold a neutral perspective when among others, they were never fake or in hiding. What you saw was what you got in the truest sense.

As I read over this list now, I again appreciate what I have learned from them and how they have inspired me to do better.

Of course, as in many cases, one can be successful in business by cutting corners, demonstrating questionable values, and moving through life with a sense of entitlement to accumulate wealth for its sake. Regrettably, young and impressionable business newcomers are inspired to do and be the same, which most often unchecked, keeps the saga ongoing.


And of course, money makes the world go round and is essential to how our society functions, but it doesn't satisfy or make happy. The more you have, the more you want.

Real success goes deeper. It impacts other people's lives and inspires them while at the same time creating wealth, boosting productivity, and producing outstanding business results.


The list above will not be new to you. Hopefully, the list can inspire you to reflect and maybe even go back to the drawing board and analyze your current leadership habits.


Image: Andrea Piacquadio von Pexels

#zarminapenner #outstandingleadership #goodleadership #leadership #leadershipvalues #leadershipintegrity

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Dr. Zarmina Penner, Steubenstrasse 3, D-65189 Wiesbaden