… and it is not always the person in charge. In fact, each of us is a leader in our own way. We may lead a team of people at work, a group of friends, a volunteer group, our families, and of course we lead ourselves every day. The fact is that we are all leaders in some form or fashion. Regardless of how large or small our sphere of influence is, if we work to improve our leadership abilities our sphere of influence will grow.
In business, why do most leaders get their first leadership position? In many cases, it is because they performed their previous duties well and someone believed they possessed leadership skills. I know that was the case with my first leadership position; and let me tell you how wrong everyone was. I was nowhere near ready for leading a team at that time. Over the years, I have studied and learned much about the difference between being a bad leader and being a good leader. Some lessons I learned the hard way, through trial and error, followed by the humility that comes from overcoming those mistakes. With my observations, I found several traits that I believe are necessary for someone to be what I consider a true leader:.
True leaders know who they are and what they stand for. They know and live their values and the rules they will abide by, regardless of the circumstances they face. The idea of living by the values simply makes decisions easier. This helps the leader and the team understand the values and what everyone is committed to, which sets the foundation for the rules everyone is expected to adhere to. True leaders both know and communicate their values openly with the people they lead, creating an atmosphere of trust, respect and certainty.
- Have integrity. Integrity is the very core of their influence. Living the values they profess to believe is what gives them credibility and allows others to place both predictive and vulnerability trust in them. True leaders are able to say “Do as I do” rather than just “Do as I say”, because they lead by example.
- Understand the need to work side-by-side with the people they lead in order to get to know and care about the people they are leading. Working with people allows leaders to lift and inspire their team. This side-by-side leadership helps build the crucial vulnerability trust to help the team grow.
- Listen without being condescending. They are open to hearing what others have to say without judging. They are patient and genuine in their desire to understand the thoughts and feelings of the people they lead.
- Are forthright with their people. They communicate often and always openly with nothing to hide. They take the time to communicate in order to show that the people and the team as a whole is valued and important to them. They recognize that, as the leader, they have an obligation to communicate directly with everyone and rarely allow a void that someone with mal-intent can fill. True leaders take on the responsibility of communicating for themselves, and not rely on someone to be their voice.
- Reprimand team members from a place of sincerity, combined with a genuine desire to help them improve. They reprimand without anger and they relay feedback in a direct, yet kind and respectful way. Even when they see a bad behavior needing to be corrected, they don’t view the person doing the behavior as a bad person. They listen and attempt to understand what led to that person making the mistake or exhibiting the bad behavior in order to understand the underlying cause that needs correcting. True leaders understand that when a person feels valued and cared for by their leader, they will be far more willing to take the feedback and implement the needed changes. They understand that no value comes from the use of sarcasm, beating around the bush, or sugar coating things that need to be communicated. They understand that using those tactics can break people’s trust and leave them feeling uncertain or belittled, which will ultimately lead to harboring bad feelings toward their leader, none of which inspire a desire to change or improve their own behavior.
- True leaders don’t control their people, they inspire them to do great things. They give them the values and rules, which set the boundaries to operate within. Then they encourage people to go out and make choices on their own. True leaders understand that employees cannot grow and progress until they are given the freedom to make choices, to try things, and yes, even to make a few mistakes so they can learn from those and improve.
- True leaders delegate. They give important and specific tasks to their people that will allow their people to learn and grow in their positions. Often times it would far easier for the leader to simply do the task them self. They could get it done more quickly, effectively, and exactly to their liking. However, true leaders understand that doing so allows no growth for the people they are leading, and therefore they see their greatest role as a delegator and a teacher to the people they lead.
- True leaders are not afraid to make demands of the people they lead. True leaders understand that it is a mistake to be too soft, just as it is a mistake to be too harsh. They have the courage to direct people in the work that needs to get accomplished, expressing their belief in the people’s abilities, delegating duties, and teaching and correcting their people along the way. They help people grow by making reasonable but real demands. They don’t assign people tasks that are beyond their ability, but they do assign tasks that cause people to stretch themselves. They recognize the possibilities of what their team can accomplish and they motivate each person to recognize their potential.
- True leaders use their time wisely. That doesn’t mean they can’t take time for leisure and fun, it simply means they do their best not to waste the time they have. They are selfless and they work tirelessly to help make their team a success.
- True leaders hold themselves, and their people, accountable. They hold themselves to a high standard so they can hold their people to a high standard as well.
- True leaders keep things in perspective. They don’t rush into making short term decisions that will benefit their organization today only to cause even greater problems in the future. They try to take all the facts into account, keeping a long-term view in their approach, with the desire that any fixes they put in place today will be to the benefit of the organization and the people both now and in the future.
“True leaders understand that leadership is not about them but about those they serve. It is not about exalting themselves but about lifting others up.” –Sherry Dew
We all have room to improve as leaders, but our ultimate goal should be the same: To be leaders who are loved, admired, and respected by the people we lead as we motivate and inspire those people to achieve their full potential.
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Image courtesy of The Gold Guys