What makes a leader?
According to Merriam-Webster, the term features three definitions:
: someone who guides other people
: someone or something that is ahead of others in a race or competition
: a powerful person who controls or influences what other people do
What do these definitions have in common? They all showcase a person who inspires others—an individual who is ahead of the curve in some way, and who can help others fulfill their potential.
But no one is perfect. We are all learning as we go. And leaders are no exception.
The good news is that by turning to leaders, and by paying close attention to the insights they’ve picked up over the years, we too can realize our best selves.
With that, here are nine qualities that make an effective leader. The best in the business know to:
1. Influence rather than control.
Leaders should be assertive rather than aggressive. They should build trust among their followers rather than forcing them to listen.
Does this make sense? While it’s important to connect with your team in a way that inspires respect, you need to recognize that your role is a privilege. It’s not a right, and in the grand scheme of things, your perspective is no better or worse than anyone else’s.
This means you need to listen to your followers. You should take stock of what others have to say, and aim to influence rather than control.
2. Put themselves in others’ shoes.
Being in a position of power can be thrilling. That’s not what being a leader is about, though.
Effective leaders put themselves in other people’s proverbial shoes. They consider the issues their followers face, the challenges with which their audience grapples in their daily lives, and the environments in which their people live and work.
Because when it comes to leading others, those in positions of power need to understand the people who are listening to them. In this way, leaders should connect with people at every level of their organization.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
We’ve touched on the benefits of connecting with other people.
Communication is key here. Yes, it’s a buzzword, but it’s paramount. To communicate effectively, leaders need to express their company’s mission, vision, goals, purpose, and progress in a way that resonates with everyone—time and time again.
But just as teachers recognize that people learn in different ways, so too must leaders. Someone worth following will engage their audience by communicating in a variety of formats—orally and visually, quantitatively and qualitatively—to spark an open dialogue and ensure their message comes across.
4. Be vulnerable.
While a common act of self-preservation, closing yourself off to scrutiny doesn’t do much in the way of inspiring trust.
The reality is that a harsh or withdrawn demeanor can alienate people. Conversely, by being vulnerable, you can show your team that you’ve been in their position, and reinforce that you want to help them.
You see, leaders must show others that they’re human. To be effective in your role, you ought to own the struggles you’ve faced, explain to others how you empathize with them, and be vocal about your blind spots.
Because contrary to popular belief, vulnerability is in fact a strength.
5. Recruit people who are different from them.
This too is an important part of being vulnerable.
Think of it from a personal relationship standpoint. Maybe you:
· Love making plans
· Retreat during conflict
· Cook as a form of stress relief
Wouldn’t it be better to find a partner who prefers to go with the flow? Someone who can calmly talk things out during conflict, and who enjoys taking a backseat in the kitchen?
The truth is that people who are very similar are at a higher risk of butting heads—of clashing.
The best leaders recognize that they don’t need people who are like them to see their organization to success. While a shared vision is beneficial, the key thing is to recruit people with complementary skills.
Bad with numbers? Find someone skilled in math to take on the role of CFO. Love marketing? Then your number-two doesn’t have to. The most talented leaders recruit people who play to their own unique strengths.
6. Find a mentor.
The verdict is in: Many therapists need therapy too, it turns out.
In this same vein, leaders benefit greatly from having mentors. No one person has all the answers, and people from all walks of life—no matter their position or level of influence—can reap the benefits of having someone to talk to when life throws a curveball.
Of course, leaders shouldn’t find just any mentor. No one should. The important thing here is to connect with a person you look up to. With someone whose outlook resonates with yours. To maintain the relationship, be sure to schedule regular check-ins, and lean in to the coaching opportunities that come about.
7. Create their own path.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to success.
There is no one school you need to attend—no one program you need to complete. You don’t need to go over a checklist of items to pave your way forward in the world. In fact, some entrepreneurs—while highly motivated—make unconventional decisions to find their voice and make a name for themselves.
So instead of trying to follow a specific formula, focus on embracing the unexpected. Make time for self-care, and make a point of building skills doing the things you love. Your leadership abilities will follow, so long as you do what makes sense to you.
Above all else, leaders need to develop a strategy that’s authentic to them. This doesn’t mean it will be easy, but it should absolutely come naturally.
8. Avoid letting money define them.
It may sound cliché, but your worth isn’t defined by how much money you have in the bank.
Of course, it’s natural to think about money as you progress in your career. It’s even natural to consider how you’ll make more money from there.
But the strongest leaders recognize that money isn’t the end goal. The truth is that success isn’t defined by the income you earn, but instead by the life you build with the funds you have. Put that on a cross-stitched pillow. (And, while you’re at it, read this article on Elon Musk.)
9. Step away when necessary.
Are you tired? Overwhelmed? In need of space while you work out a new idea?
Most leaders want to please the people they serve—but they can’t be everything to everyone. And even the most talented people need to put their own metaphorical oxygen mask on before they can help others.
With that, many leaders wish they’d known much earlier the benefits of stepping away when they need a break. To realize your full potential, don’t be afraid to take that vacation. Don’t hesitate to turn your phone off from time to time. Let yourself simply be.
These are just some of the strategies that make a great leader. And now we’d like to hear from you.
What have you learned about leading others? What insights do you wish you gleaned earlier? Please share your takeaways in the comments below. And of course, connect with us with questions or for more information on our services.