The Five “Y’s” Of Leadership

Updated: Mar 25



Countless books, articles, blog posts and debates enumerate 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 our leaders is increasingly significant in the midst of cultural and ethical problems recently exposed within organizations and our society as a whole.

While executives and managers assume the positional authority to direct resources toward a defined objective, 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 resides not in the hands of the individual who desires to lead, but rather in the hands of the individuals who may or may not choose to follow. Therefore, 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.

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 we may assess as a leader. 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 and loyalty exhibit what I refer to as the five “Y’s” of leadership:

  1. honestY – You are trusted. You do not lie.

  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?

Take stock in those you choose to follow in the organizations you serve and communities in which you reside. Consider the five “Y’s.” Ask yourself if they are 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 in the organization that you serve, consider setting the five “Y’s” as the foundation upon which you identify and select future leaders in your organization. I assure you that others will follow and your organization will steer clear of undesired headlines.

Choose your leaders carefully. CEEK a Better Way®!


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