When you sit back to think about different widely known leaders, who comes to mind? Does Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey pop in your head? From the past, what about Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill or Nelson Mandela? Does the current Pope Francis sneak in? Surely, Martin Luther King Jr. came to mind.
What Great Leaders Have in Common
There are countless leaders in history (and present) that have made a difference in so many people’s lives. Now, which leadership traits do they have that allow them to make such a high impact in other’s lives? Without a doubt they all have incredible work ethic, they are able to maintain their focus no matter how chaotic situations may get, they are able to make hard decisions quickly, and they all have the ability to make every person on the team feel important.
These traits are not the only aspects that make a leader a leader, but they are aspects that make a difference in becoming part of the elite group of leaders.
No One Wants to be Mediocre
There are countless people that want to become great leaders so they can build a big business or make a major impact for good in the world just like many of the great leaders have in the past. They just don’t know what becoming a great leader involves.
However, they suspect that without a great leader it’s doubtful an organization will have any chance of doing great things.
They don’t know all of the blood, sweat and tears that most leaders sift through before they actually become one of the elite. Being a leader doesn’t just mean that you have a great work ethic, a positive attitude, or know how to delegate. Being a great leader means that you have multiple qualities working as one so you get the results you need.
You are probably thinking to yourself that you have multiple qualities that can help make you become one of the elite, but remember, numbers don’t lie. If you’re not getting great results chances are you are not providing great leadership because everyone knows that behind every great team is a great leader at work.
Be honest with yourself. Don’t become one of the many who lives in denial and holds themselves back–unwilling to make changes and afraid to take full responsibility for the performance of their team.
That is why there are so many capable leaders out there, yet there are few that actually become elite. Being aware of the reasons that you aren’t on the road to elite leadership is the first step to finding that road.
If you aren’t anywhere near where you want to be, don’t get discouraged, you are certainly able to find that road.
Remember, every leader had a different start in life. Some had no training. Some had mentors and role models. Some had no one. Some had to figure it out themselves. Some had a lot of resources and others had to bootstrap. Some came from highly developed nations and others from 3rd world countries.
As you can see, it doesn’t matter if you were born into a situation where becoming a leader is “easier” – most leaders aren’t “born a leader”. Leaders are born with certain abilities, skills and intelligence that help them learn and develop. Leaders are born with, or develop along the way, an extraordinary interest in whatever arena it is that they are looking to be successful in–they are insanely passionate about the subject. That’s a big reason they are so driven and seemingly work harder than everyone else, it’s because it’s so important to them.
Yes, leaders are born with certain skills, but if they don’t know how to develop them, the skills become insignificant. Developing leadership skills is just like developing muscles. Muscles won’t do you much good unless they are developed; it’s the same with skills.
Move Forward by Focusing on These Leadership Traits
Great leadership skills are simply an extension of the same skills needed to run a great life. That’s why improving these areas pays such big dividends for you personally and allows you to get much better results with your team. Here are 10 traits to focus on:
1. Communication – Always be clear and concise. If people don’t understand what you are talking about, they won’t know what to do. All this does is slow down the process of getting things done, which slows down overall productivity.
2. Empowerment – Delegate as many things as possible, so people can keep learning and growing. The more things you continue to do by yourself, the more you slow down your ability to grow. There are only so many hours in the day. So, if you continue doing everything yourself, you will handicap your ability to expand into new areas and your team will stagnate.
3. Confidence – Make decisions and stand by them. Weak leaders produce weak teams with weak results. A weak leader is almost worse than no leader at all because they are afraid to take responsibility. If a leader doesn’t have enough confidence to stand behind their decisions, they will continually let down their team.
4. Open Mindedness – When it comes to making the final decision, it comes down to one person making the call. On the other hand, when it comes to problem solving, strategy, and the need for creativity, two heads are usually better than one. Some of the best ideas come from collaborating with other teammates. Everyone has a different way of processing situations and ideas, and a great leader utilizes that.
5. Sense of Humor – Great leaders make things easier on themselves and their team when they are able to laugh at themselves. Humor diffuses stress. When you are able to laugh at yourself, it is easier to accept occasional mistakes and failures by others.
6. Decisiveness – It’s great to get all the information, but sooner or later someone has to make a decision. The problem is that we don’t have an unlimited amount of time. Decisions need to be made quickly and with ease. Life moves at a fast pace and so should your decisions. If you aren’t able to act quickly, you may miss important windows of opportunity. In the beginning of my career, we had a new CEO start at our office. Within a few weeks, his indecisiveness paralyzed the entire home office. The team was afraid to do almost anything. I used to joke with the team because they hesitated to turn on a light switch without permission for fear of being yelled at. Long story short, that CEO had to go…and he did.
7. Inspiration – It is one thing to work, but it is another thing to work with enthusiasm. The best leaders know how to capture the imagination of people on their team, so they understand how important their role is in the mission and “big picture” purpose of the company or team. Knowing that they are a part of doing something important and big causes them to not only enjoy their work a lot more, but to also be much more productive.
8. Positivity – It is natural for things to go wrong in life, and the natural reaction is to get discouraged and stressed. It is important for leaders to realize that their team can get depressed and discouraged all by themselves. The negativity doesn’t have to come from the top. People need positive voices at the top. As a leader, you should always remind your team of their strengths as well as how what they have done in the past has helped the company. Be sure to minimize negative events and maximize enthusiasm for doing great things. Only the leader can ensure the team has a positive environment to work in.
9. Authenticity – The title doesn’t make the leader; the leader makes the title. People can smell a phony a mile away. Leaders must be themselves. If the leader is trying to act the way they think a leader should act, his team will spot him as a fraud and he will lose all respect. You can only be great by being yourself. Have integrity, treat people the right way, and work hard. If that’s not good enough, find some other team to lead.
10. Focus – The mark of maturity is consistency. The mark of immaturity is inconsistency. In other words, being easily distracted is child-like. Without focus, from the top all the way down to the bottom, the team is going to be massively unproductive because they will be spending their time on all sorts of activities that don’t really matter. This is where the principle of making the most important thing the most important thing comes into play. It’s the difference between a mob and an army. It’s the job of the leader to keep the team focused on what they need to do and not get off track.
At this point you should realize that over time, you not only have the chance to become a leader, but you have a chance to become a great leader. My best advice to make that happen is for you to start incorporating these leadership traits right now.
Being a leader is how you live your life, not something you just do Monday-Friday from 9-5. If you start now to open yourself up to living your life in this way, you will begin developing leadership abilities immediately.
There is a worldwide shortage of leaders, so it probably won’t take long before you start to stand out and someone decides they want you to be a leader on their team.
Now, take a minute to think about the leaders that have had a positive impact on your own life. Most of those leaders likely have the leadership traits that we spoke about. Keep these traits in the back of your mind as you develop your own leadership traits. Be careful to not compare yourself to that leader, but just use these as real-life examples as you develop your own leadership traits.
I want to help us hold each other accountable. Take time to make two columns–one column should list the leadership traits that you effectively use on a daily basis and the other column should list the ones that you need to work on. Post the ones you need to work on in the comments, so we can all support each other!