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The Least Recognized Essential Leadership Quality


Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.” - Abraham Lincoln.

Lack of gender neutrality aside, this is an extremely poignant quote. When an organization makes someone a supervisor, it gives that person power over the livelihood, development and level of engagement of those people assigned to them. It is vital that a person with such power, uses that powers for good and not evil. Part of being an effective supervisor is the ability to recognize and understand the power one has and to use it for the betterment of those in her/his charge and the organization and not for selfish ends. To effectively accomplish this takes a certain level of selflessness, emotional intelligence, foresight and rapport building. In short, supervisors need to be magnanimous.

Let’s think about what it means to be magnanimous. To be magnanimous is to be generous and/or forgiving toward those with less power than oneself; and to be free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness. It’s a big word and a bit difficult to pronounce (especially in its noun form - magnanimity) and perhaps that’s why it’s never mentioned as an essential leadership characteristic. Well, I think it’s high time magnanimity gets its due, because it just happens to be a very important quality that all supervisors should possess. It’s probably not the first characteristic one thinks of when considering leadership qualities, but it just might be as important as any quality anyone can list. Here are four key skills exhibited by a magnanimous person which lend themselves to strong leadership abilities.

One who is magnanimous has a service orientation. Understanding power dynamics and one’s impact on others is a very important part of leading others. Employees with a service orientation understand they have the power to impact the customer experience both positively and negatively. To be magnanimous is to give of one’s self generously and compassionately to positively impact the customer experience. As a leader, the same principle holds true but it extends to the internal customers one supervises. Supervisors must be dedicated to the individuals under their charge, serving them even more diligently than external customers. Why more diligently? The relationship with customers is fleeting or, at its best, periodic. The relationship between individual contributor and supervisor is much more frequent, intimate and has a greater impact on the lives of both. As a supervisor, one must realize that the only way to get most of their departmental work done is through others. Therefore, it behooves every supervisor to act in the service of their employees.

A magnanimous person is empathetic. Supervisors are at once leader (of their employees) and follower (lead by their boss); this dynamic alone should lend itself to empathy. Magnanimity acts according to the humility required to be led by another and uses that humility to lead others in the way in which they would want to be lead. In other words, the magnanimous leader provides the type of assistance, understanding, direction and consideration she/he expects from her/his customer service providers and leaders. The empathetic actions of magnanimous people are a result of a greater understanding of their impact on the external customer and internal customer experiences. Emotional Intelligence (EI) is being hailed as a must-have leadership characteristic. Well, the magnanimous display a very high level of EI through their empathy and understanding of the power they have and how their actions impact the lives and experiences of others.

Magnanimity sees the big picture. A person’s understanding of how best to use their power is an indication of strategic thinking. Power engenders options. To make the choice to be magnanimous is to consider all other options, learn from their past experiences or hypothesize the expected outcomes of each potential course of action and conclude that it is in everyone’s long-term best interest to act magnanimously. I don’t know about you, but I want a leader that is able to think in these strategic terms working for my company, handling my human resources and being responsible for my customer’s experiences. Understanding and using the advantages of being magnanimous with one’s supervisory powers is indicative of long-term, strategic thinking ability.

The magnanimous are relationship builders. Magnanimity is defined by how someone relates to others; so by definition, the characteristic is all about relationships. Knowing how to properly exercise power, showing empathy and seeing the long-term benefit of being magnanimous are all about building positive relationships. It stands to reason that a person that is kind to others, generous, above pettiness and fixated on their customers would seek to build relationships which benefit those customers. It’s not a stretch to imagine someone with the above qualities forming strategic alliances and other collaborations to enhance the customer experience. Further, it is also logical to believe someone with empathy and a strong customer orientation would possess the ability to empower their internal customers (employees) to find ways to improve the experiences of their customers and themselves. At the heart of an orientation toward magnanimity is the understanding of the value of positive relationships. In this age of collaboration and organizations structured as a network of teams, relationship building is an extremely valuable and necessary leadership skill.

At this point it should be clear that magnanimity is not just a big, difficult to pronounce word, it’s a quality that encompasses several skills and abilities necessity for effective leadership. Supervisors that are not magnanimous can be self-serving, cruel, unsympathetic, insular and petty. All of which are qualities that lead to ineffective leadership. This is precisely why I believe magnanimity to be one of several essential qualities needed by supervisors. As workplaces become more and more diverse, collaborative and place emphasis on the ability to manage a collaborative team; a supervisor that possesses magnanimity has several underlying skills and abilities needed to succeed. The actions that result from practicing magnanimity are essential in today’s workplace. So, when you are screening potential leaders, don’t neglect to screen for magnanimity. It is definitely hard to say, but its value is even harder to do without.


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