The Five Y’s of Leadership

Countless books, articles, and blog posts debate the primary traits of effective leaders. At the risk of further flooding the marketplace, I offer a new perspective relative to an important distinction that we often fail to recognize.

The designation of “leader” is an assessment given by followers, not an assertion conferred by title or position.

Our ability to consciously assess and select who we follow is increasingly important. In the midst of cultural and ethical problems we face, it is important for us wisely to choose who we follow within the organization we serve and our society as a whole.

Executives and managers assume the positional authority to direct resources toward a defined objective. However, like anyone else, they must still earn the status of a leader worth following. Leaders earn this status based on the desire and willingness of others to follow them. In other words, I can’t pronounce my authority as a leader. That right is reserved for you and anyone else who may choose to assess my worthiness to lead.

Thus, the ultimate determination of who is or is not a leader does not reside in the hands of the individual who desires to lead. Rather, that determination is in the hands of the individuals who may or may not choose to follow. The important question to answer is not what makes you or me a great a leader. Rather, we should all wrestle with the question of why I should choose to follow.

Why Should I Follow

Far too often we choose to follow others for shallow reasons. While we may be inspired by a compelling vision, we are often swayed by the looks, prestige, image, rhetoric or perceived success of an individual. I challenge all of us to aspire to a deeper consideration of why we should follow. In my experience, successful leaders worthy of my respect exhibit what I refer to as the five “Y’s” of leadership:

  1. honestY – You are trusted. You do not mislead.
  2. empathY – You listen to understand. You do not dismiss.
  3. authenticitY – You are genuine and sincere. You do not act.
  4. humilitY – You are relatable. You do not exalt yourself.
  5. accountabilitY – You accept responsibility. You do not blame.

If you and I determine who is a leader, are these not the fundamental characteristics that we should expect of those we choose to follow? Or are we simply willing to sacrifice such values in favor of a compelling purpose, strong rhetoric, or a dominant presence?

Practice What You Preach

In the midst of a global health pandemic, we are seeing many good and some “not-so-good” leadership examples in business, government and communities. Consider the Five “Y’s.” Ask yourself, who is worthy of your assessed designation as a leader?

More importantly, if you desire to be a leader, consider how you can demonstrate the Five “Y’s” of Leadership. I am confident that these traits will enhance your worthiness as a leader.

And if you have any influence over the competencies expected of leaders you organization, consider setting the Five “Y’s” as the foundation upon which you identify and select future leaders. I assure you that others will follow and your organization will steer clear of undesired headlines.

Assess and choose your leaders carefully. Seek a better way!

Steve Wiley is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He is a certified Executive and Leadership Coach with business and engineering management degrees from William and Mary and George Washington University. He founded CEEK with the mission to help organizations redefine and pursue wellness via solutions that enhance teamwork, mitigate anxiety, promote healthy balance, and advance a values-based, leadership culture. Prior to starting CEEK, Mr. Wiley was responsible for delivering government IT services leading an account of approximately 400 employees. He is PMP certified and a graduate of the Industry Advisory Council Partners Program. Mr. Wiley’s recently released book, Navigate Chaos, was a number one best-seller on Amazon.

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