Finding Your Inner 'Line Leader' (Erin Parker Commentary)

by Erin Parker  on Monday, Sep. 11, 2017 12:00 am   3 min read

It seems like everyone has an opinion about what makes a good leader. Before adding mine, I decided to perform a little non-scientific research and recently asked my 4-year-old friend Margo, “What makes a good leader?” Without missing a beat, she responded, “They are good at telling people to get in line and go outside.”

I can only assume that this is also a characteristic of a good “line leader,” but surprisingly her answer proved to be very similar, adjusted for age, to that of one of my best friends and mentors, my 93-year-old grandmother. When asked the same question, she paused to reflect and then answered, “People who are able to inspire others to follow them with truthfulness and enthusiasm.”

I wouldn’t have initially considered enthusiasm in my response, but once she said it, I couldn’t imagine a definition that didn’t include it. As leaders develop, there are three characteristics that often define the great ones: authenticity, self-awareness and enthusiasm.

With truthfulness and trust, the first breeds the latter. Research has shown that people are more trusting when they feel confident that the other person is being authentic and not “a replica of someone else.” Authenticity also marks effective leaders, as the basis of every relationship is trust.

If you consider the great leaders in history and those you’ve known in your life, what probably stands out about them is how they made you feel, how they inspired you and their passion. Likely these leaders exuded confidence and authenticity. That truthfulness starts with an individual’s story.

According to the Harvard Business Review article, “Discovering Your Authentic Leadership,” a person’s life story provides context for “experiences, and through it, you can find the inspiration to make an impact on the world.”

Thus, the line leader qualities Margo suggested would be part of her story and all of our stories. Understanding these life experiences and their effect on our lives creates a self-awareness that is needed for authenticity to flourish. Individuals with honed self-awareness create a space for authenticity and growth. Authenticity also allows the leader to show imperfection and an element of humanity that generates trust.

Enthusiasm is what attracts others to follow you. It motivates both you and those around you. Like a good red wine and steak, authenticity is a required pairing for enthusiasm. Artificial enthusiasm produces lack of trust. Without trust, candid conversations cannot occur. In order for us to be effective leaders, candid, honest and sometimes difficult conversations are required.

Can preschool line leaders teach us what we need to know about developing an authentic, self-aware and enthusiastic leader? Line leaders must be authentic. We all know that kids will say anything — for better or worse. They do not hesitate to call out a parent, teacher or peer when they identify anything untruthful or the least bit off. This is authenticity in its truest form.

Clearly, as we develop we add filters to our narrative so that we are professionally appropriate. Kids are not always self-aware; however, they usually know why they are or are not the line leader for the given day, their path to become the line leader (usually waiting their turn) and how to make the other children follow them. Enthusiasm as a line leader speaks for itself. Have you ever seen a preschool line leader who didn’t perform the necessary tasks with passion, eagerness and the tiniest form of a power trip? If we could all lead with the passion of a 4-year-old and the characteristics of a line leader, we’d be well on our way to effective leadership.

Erin Parker is corporate compliance director at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock and an MBA student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.



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