7 Leadership Lessons from Emergency Managers: Why It’s Important to “Like People”

We recently facilitated a leadership development program for emergency managers from many of the largest cities in the US. The program is sponsored by a Fortune 500 corporation deeply committed to creating strong communities. As part of this program we had experienced leaders from both the emergency management community as well as from the sponsor organization share about their experiences and what they think are important leadership traits. These people are at the top of their game and clearly know something about leadership. We asked the students what leadership lessons they were taking away after hearing from the experienced leaders who spoke during the course.. We expected to hear things along the lines of, “you have to be an expert in the field, or you have to be able to hold people accountable, or you have to be decisive.” That’s not what we heard. We heard them say that as a leader you have to:

1. Have the courage to follow your instincts 2. Know yourself in order to know how to approach and work with others 3. Understand people’s motivations and know where they are coming from 4. Think outside the box: if you think you hear a horse coming, imagine it’s a zebra 5. Be sincere and authentic, you can’t “act” leadership 6. Understand the power of convening 7. Like people

Certainly many of these lessons aren’t surprising. And, the one that really caught our attention was the one about needing to like people. That really struck us as being so obvious and yet, we don’t recall previously hearing this as part of the larger discourse around what it takes to practice effective leadership.

As is the case with the infinite debate about what leadership is, we expect there are those who might argue, and perhaps successfully, that one can be an effective leader if they don’t like people. We, however, think there is great wisdom in that simple lesson and one that might be the best test for whether someone is truly up to the responsibilities required in being a leader.

What leadership qualities do you think are the most important?