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February 2016: Twelve Markers of High-Functioning Leadership

A company president asked, “What are some of the leadership goals you try to promote?”

I sent him the following list, and offer it to a wider audience of leaders for consideration:

Agnostic curiosity

Asking a question with the attitude of wanting to discover something new:

“I’m more interested in exploring than in leading you to my solution.”

Humble swagger

Confidence tempered by the sober recognition of dumb luck in one’s success:

“Yes, I’ve worked hard, and acknowledge my talent. At the same time, I can see that ‘privilege’ and ‘breaks’ gave me great advantages.”

Flexible firmness

Firm conviction moderated by openness to new information and insight:

“This is what I believe now, but I’m open to review.”

Discernment before deciding

Looking at all sides of an issue or belief instead of “jumping” based on emotion:

“There’s no easy answer to most important decisions, so I’ll reflect before concluding.”

Connection without fusion

Maintaining togetherness without the impinging “demands” of intense attachment:

“I want to experience closeness and connection while distinguishing ‘me’ from ‘us’”

Belief without persuasion

Holding a strong belief without the need to convince others you are right:

“I’m not saying I’m ‘right’. This is my belief, and others have the right to their beliefs.”

Emotional self honesty and emotional self-regulation

Knowing what you are feeling while choosing whether and how to express it:

“I’m in tune with my feelings, but my feelings don’t control me.”

Self-purpose without selfishness

Clearly defining what you want without making it everything:

“I know what I want and where I want to go, but I’m not the center of the Universe.”

Need-based helpfulness

Distinguishing between genuine need and fake need before offering help:

“I modify my desire to be helpful based on whether dispensing help makes sense.”

Influence without control

Helping others grow without telling them what to do:

“I allow my behavior to speak for itself; I don’t know what’s best for others.”

Comfort with discomfort

Learning to embrace the emotional discomfort that leads to progress:

“I’m able to choose discomfort and sacrifice for the sake of a greater good.”

Favoring “contributing factors” over “cause”

Thinking more deeply, and realizing there’s rarely a single cause for any problem:

“I am suspicious of simplistic solutions to complex problems.”

It would be irresponsible of me not to emphasize that the above markers of higher functioning invite a lifetime of work. The commitment to become one’s best self is neither short-term nor discipline-free.

Dedicating oneself to a lifetime of work on anything appears counter-cultural in an era when “instant” messaging, superficial “tweeting” and abbreviation-littered “texting” dominate.

For this reason, many leaders (including myself) have found it helpful to engage a sounding board, confidant or coach to assist with progress on these important aspects of emotional well-being.

5 Responses to “February 2016: Twelve Markers of High-Functioning Leadership”

  1. February 01, 2016 at 2:44 pm, Lisa Smith said:

John, thank you for the reminders, each of these markers is important as well as the reminder that it is a commitment over time and takes thoughtful practice.

  1. February 02, 2016 at 1:35 am, John Cammack said:

A commendable set of attributes.

  1. February 11, 2016 at 1:15 pm, Lynn Acquafondata said:

Outstanding list. I love the use of contrasting states and approaches in each of these. It shows how good leadership involves working towards internal as well as external balance.

  1. February 16, 2016 at 4:35 pm, 3 Lesser Known Principles Required for Effective Family Business Leadership - Family Business Resources said:

[…] week I was reading John Engles’ on the 12 Markers of High Functioning Leadership and realized that they are important […]

  1. February 25, 2016 at 11:44 pm, Joseph Engels said:

Dad, I like these attributes. I especially like your comments at the end. Dedication is more against, than with, the cultural tide right now, and I think the expectation of immediacy (pervading communication, sexual relationships, entertainment, and food prep, to name a few venues) has primed us away from a view that recognizes slow progress. Cheers.

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