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A few days ago, I joined the Thinkers Infinity Clubhouse with Mitch Joel, Rahaf Farhoush and Laura Gassner Otting.

Prior to our conversation Mitch asked me the question “What is leadership? How do you lead?”

I’ll confess he had me scrambling.

I've heard this question posed nearly ad nauseam––so many times that I rarely even notice or tune in to listen, much less actually give it some thought. I’ve never really asked myself, ‘What are my leadership principles? How do lead? Do I even think of myself as a leader?”

These questions deserve serious consideration.

We may find it challenging to define what comprises good leadership but, like art, we know it when we see it. I know it when I see it in men I admire. Right now I'm reading about Teddy Roosevelt in Doris Kearns Goodwin's Leadership In Turbulent Times. In my experience, it’s mostly been men who have had leadership roles.

But leadership isn’t only about position, and it isn’t only men who have leadership skills—who lead. In addition to the informal leading that women have always contributed to, women are also increasingly growing into the leadership roles that their skills merit. What does leadership look like in women? Do we have different expectations of how women lead than we do of men? How do I lead?

I don't have my list of leadership principles yet. But one thing I believe strongly: good leaders practice personal disruption. They aspire to become a better person and are willing to step back from who they are to do it.

Coincidentally (or not) we have Ed Catmull for this week’s podcast. Ed is the bestselling author of Creativity, Inc. He’s famous for the workplace culture that he developed and led as a co-founder of Pixar.

He leads people by believing they are worthy of his trust. Trust is a rare commodity in the contemporary workplace because it’s not common in the world generally. There are a lot of reasons to distrust, but Ed found that trusting people fuels reciprocity—they trusted him back. We’re more likely to follow a leader we trust.Here are some attributes of good leadership that Ed personifies:

  1. Ed checks references, but once he hires someone, he believes they can do the job. He doesn’t put them on probation; instead, he instills confidence by expressing confidence that they are equal to their responsibilities.
  2. He leads by taking responsibility when someone isn’t scaling the S Curve as expected–maybe there were signs he didn’t see when bringing them onboard, or maybe he didn’t give them the tools that they needed to be successful.
  3. Ed Catmull leads by example. And his example of leadership was never more compelling than when 90% of Toy Story 2 was wiped out (two years of work!) and he didn’t spend one moment trying to find someone to blame.

A good leader does what a good parent does: they create an ecosystem of safety for their people and furnish it with growth opportunities. When your people grow, your company grows.

Have you stated your leadership principles? Are they due for an update?

If you haven’t–and you did–what would they be? Give it some thought; I am.

My best,
Whitney

 

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