Do you consider yourself a leader? What is leadership? While some believe that leaders are born that way, the truth is that anyone can learn to be a leader by understanding some key findings and by putting forth the effort. The world needs more effective leaders, so let this be a sign that it’s time to step up your game and embrace some leadership traits.
If you’re are saying, “Who, me?” it’s important to acknowledge that you already ARE a leader in some aspect of your life—perhaps with your spouse, your students, your friends, or your kids. Whether or not you would call yourself a leader doesn’t matter so much, because as president John Quincy Adams so simply put it, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
Being a leader also creates value and meaning in your life. So not only do you have the opportunity to be of benefit to others, when you take the initiative to step into a leadership position, you can increase your own happiness. Sure, being a leader isn’t always the most fun job on the planet, but since leaders in positive psychology (what makes your life worth living) define happiness as the “overall feeling of pleasure and meaning,” bringing a greater sense of purpose will assuredly tip the happiness scales.
If you’ve never spent time pondering how to be a leader, below are 10 things you can do to move to the front of the pack.
1. Understand Your Leadership Style
If you already find yourself in a leadership position, it is helpful to understand your leadership style. Although there are more current frameworks for how to classify leaders, psychologist Kurt Lewin’s 1939 research on leadership styles is a great place to start. He and his team identified three basic styles:
- Authoritarian/autocratic: Focused more on command
- Participative/democratic: Encourages group participation and collaboration
- Delegative/laissez-faire: A more hands-off approach
While each style proved to work to some degree in certain situations, the participative/democratic style proved the most effective in the majority of non-emergency situations.
What is leadership for you? What style do you most identify with? If you are still not sure, take this leadership style quiz and find out.
2. Have a Vision
Whatever you are doing—whether heading a Fortune 500 company or executing a vacation for your family—it is crucial to have a vision. Consider yourself a sherpa, in this way—you need to know where you’re trying to go before attempting to get there.
Spend time visualizing the ideal image, the ultimate goal, and the final destination. Every time you make a decision, hold the possibilities up to the vision to be sure they are in alignment. It would be hard to trust a leader who has no idea where he or she is trying to take his or her team, so get clear about your priorities so you head in the right direction.
3. Be Organized
Once you have a vision, organize your time, efforts, and actions. Great leaders know that things don’t just “get done” willy-nilly. Being organized means slowing down, paying attention to detail, and doing your homework.
Show up to meetings well prepared. Teach your class from an organized lesson plan. Lead your webinar having practiced your PowerPoint presentation and have key leadership lessons to touch on throughout the presentation.
And keep your workspace and home organized, while you’re at it. Have a clean and simple filing system, and regularly attend to your inbox. Clutter sets the stage for errors.
4. Be Confident
There has never been a leader who knows absolutely everything. So be confident in what you know, and be confident in what you do not know. Everyone wants to be led by those who appear to know what they are doing. If you feel like you are in over your head or don’t know the answer to something, a confident, “I don’t know, let me look into it and get back to you,” develops trust from your team.
At the same time, do what is needed to learn the leadership skills and leadership qualities necessary for your position to have success. Work hard, practice a lot, and be willing to bravely stand out from the crowd. In an article on leadership, Bill Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company, says:
“The true mark of a leader is the willingness to stick with a bold course of action—an unconventional business strategy, a unique product-development roadmap, a controversial marketing campaign—even as the rest of the world wonders why you’re not marching in step with the status quo. In other words, real leaders are happy to zig while others zag. They understand that in an era of hyper-competition and non-stop disruption, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special.”
5. Communicate Well Across All Platforms
It shouldn’t be a surprise that leaders are good communicators, but in this day and age, there are more platforms than ever across which leaders much excel. Obviously, it is helpful to be an eloquent and dynamic public speaker, but leaders also need to be able to craft a well-worded email, use social media and text messaging with ease, and use webinar software to communicate virtually. Don’t forget that communication is a two-way street, so being a good listener is in many ways just as important than how you pass along your own message.
6. Stick to Your Word and Follow Through on Your Commitments
Leaders must be consistent in order to earn trust and make things happen. Check in with how you value your words. Are you a “yes" person? Do you commit to engagements and projects and then fail to follow through? Do you know how to say “no” with clarity and grace?
As a leader, you must follow through on your commitments. If you tell your child that there is no screen time after 6 p.m. and then you cave when they start crying, the value of your words and your commitments diminishes. If you tell your employees that you are always there for them in times of need, but you take 10 days to respond to their emails, their confidence in you as a reliable leader will take a nosedive. Be reliable and consistent, and your leadership will surely improve.
7. Believe in Your Team and Raise Them Up
“A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.” –entrepreneur Jim Rohn
As a leader, it is your job to inspire, teach, support, and connect with your team. Invest in their education and mentor them when they are ready. True leaders try to raise others up, rather than keep them contained within their current status level. By making personal connections with the people you work with, you have the chance to understand their goals and dreams. Good leaders will go the extra mile to help their employees get where they are trying to go. Invest time in your relationships and encourage them to be their very best, no matter the mistakes or challenges that arise.
It is a common error to misinterpret leadership to mean that you must do everything yourself. Good leaders know how to delegate. They are confident in what they know and upfront about what they do not (see number 4). However, just because you have the ability to do something doesn’t mean you should. As a leader, you must assess the most valuable place to put your time and energy.
If you are an entrepreneur, for example, delegating your accounting, marketing, and social media efforts can save you huge amounts of time, and can free you up to spend your money on your product and your art. It is also a gift to others on your team to give them tasks and responsibilities. For the most part, people are grateful to be needed, so ask for what you need, and make the most of your time. This is a crucial step in how to be an effective leader.
9. Value Curiosity and Learning
Be wary of thinking you know everything—as a leader and a human being. Approach life with curiosity instead of judgment, and you will open up a world of possibilities. The best teachers are usually lifelong students. The best managers are the ones who are constantly trying to improve their managerial skills and find new ways to solve complex problems. The best parents and mates are the ones who genuinely want to be the best parent, spouse, and friend they can be and take actions that prove it.
President John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Read lots of books, spend time looking at relevant blogs, and register for webinars and seminars to improve your skills. Open yourself up to learn from everyone you meet; in fact, treat everyone like they are your teacher. Not only will you learn more, but people will enjoy being around you more, too.
10. Have a Positive Attitude
Make your well-being and positive attitude a priority in your role as a leader. An article from the Harvard Business Review shared research that “shows that when people work with a positive mindset, performance on nearly every level—productivity, creativity, engagement—improves.” This is true not only of employees but for managers and bosses, too.
Some ways you can cultivate a more positive environment are to:
- Praise often, and celebrate when others do well.
- Make a sense of humor part of your culture.
- Emphasize gratitude.
- Surround yourself and your team with positive and encouraging messages.
- Encourage social relationships and camaraderie.
- Integrate regular physical activity and mindfulness breaks throughout the day.
So get out there and commit to being a leader in this world. Be brave, be willing, be bold, and resist the urge to keep your light under a bushel. Pave the way forward, even if you can’t foresee the outcome (no one can!), and make a difference to the people in your life. You were born for this.