Behind every great leader is a great mentor — someone who inspires, demonstrates greatness, is eager to listen and learn, leads through service, and builds others up along the way.
For me, this person is Knox Singleton, CEO of Inova Health, a nonprofit healthcare system in Northern Virginia and the Washington DC metro area. He has been a CEO longer than I’ve been alive. Unlike many people in that situation who get comfortable and take less risk with age and experience, I marvel at the way he consistently reinvents himself and creates value for the organization and people he leads.
Prior to co-founding my own nonprofit, I worked directly with and for Knox. He took bets on me as a young leader, pulling me up, sponsoring me, coaching me, and critiquing me. Not only has Knox been an incredible mentor to me (and now my co-founder), his success has been an inspiration throughout my own journey.
During my organization’s first annual summit, it’s no surprise I wanted Knox to facilitate a conversation about leadership. I knew his wisdom would provide emerging social entrepreneurs with tangible steps to incorporate in their personal leadership journeys. He spoke about his 10 keys to leadership success and personal growth. I found his insights so valuable that I want to share them with you.
1. Learn from the best
Much of learning in a professional space takes the form of imitation. To learn, find the best person possible to shadow. When you work closely with an experienced individual who excels in their field will help you gain the confidence and perspective to be successful.
2. Stand for something greater
Standing behind a cause is imperative to leadership success because it builds respect. Being upfront about advocacy makes others see you as a genuine, ethical and admirable person. Be a champion for your family, your faith, the environment, racial equity, social justice or whatever you feel passionate about.
3. Practice direct talk
When you speak directly it builds trust. For example, address conflict directly and promptly, deliver constructive criticism without invitation, and ask for honest criticism from others.
4. Only speak well of others
While it is a good idea to offer constructive criticism, speaking about another person’s weaknesses or failures destroys the trust of the person to whom you are speaking and the person about whom you are speaking. Not to mention, when you triangle criticism through third parties it undermines your communication skills.
5. Be candid about your weaknesses
Communicate your weaknesses. While this strategy may make you feel vulnerable, it will encourage your team to compensate for the gaps in your skills so the performance of the team and work does not suffer.
6. Admit your mistakes
Simply put, full admission of your mistakes communicates that you want to learn.
7. Say you are sorry
When you apologize it communicates personal strength and self-confidence. Simultaneously, it turns away anger. When someone feels they have been wronged, they want you to feel their pain.
8. Tell people when you don’t understand
You cannot meet the needs of others if you don’t understand what they want. You might say something like, “Help me understand,” as it helps people feel valued, respected, heard and close to you.
9. Share how you feel
Telling people how you feel builds trust in you. At the same time you can share what you want and need. If you speak to your feelings, you build a personal bond that is much stronger than sharing knowledge. Simply put, the message “I’m clever” is less valuable to cultivating a personal relationship than the message “I’m excited.”
10. Practice servant leadership
As a leader, your fundamental role is to remove the barriers your team faces. Include people when identifying their priorities and empower them to craft solutions. At the end of the day, people don’t want to make the decision — they just want to be heard, so listen.
11. Bonus: Show appreciation
Say “thank you” as much as possible; people want their efforts to be acknowledged. It builds a sense of commitment and loyalty.
These personal characteristics are almost entirely why some people get ahead and why others stay at the bottom. Many of Knox’s keys to leadership success and personal growth require taking interpersonal risk. I am learning that it is this kind of personal authenticity, willingness to be vulnerable, and connecting with others that ultimately leads to personal growth and leadership success.
This article has been edited.
Carrie Rich is a social entrepreneur with a focus on investing in leadership potential. She is the Co-Founder and CEO of The Global Good Fund. Connect with @mscarrierich on Twitter.