So, You Want to Be A Leader?

What makes an effective and inspirational leader? Ask ten different people and you’ll get that many different answers. Also, there are as many theories and methodologies as there are books that have been written about Leadership, although there always seem to be a few consistent themes.

I’ve worked in the past and continue to do today, with a number of organizational Leaders; assessing, profiling (yes, profiling), developing, guiding and coaching them in the area of Leadership Character & Behavior.

Over the years and even now, I keep coming back to 10 tips that I continue to recommend to anyone aspiring or currently desiring to improve on their journey to being an Elite Leader.
  1. Explore, understand and be able to articulate Why? Because leadership usually involves some level of sacrifice, I’m always curious about mid-level individuals who aspire to become high level leaders. Anyone who’s been effective in a leadership position over time understands the pressures, expectations and pitfalls involved with being a leader. Listen to my most recent Podcast on The 5 Perils of Leadership and you’ll get my implication. The buck generally stops with them and they hold accountability for their teams, themselves and often, their entire organizations. Who would want that kind of pressure? As with any initiative in life, understanding the Why? is not only critical in the context of Leadership, but in all things. One of the first questions to anyone I work with is What drives and motivates you to wake up every day and be excited about your current environment? These motivations can be incredibly varied and unlimited, but a central theme with most elite leaders is the desire to effect change, help others, or both. An individual’s Why? should be simple, relevant and compelling, An example would be creating a high-level soundbite that implies the theme behind the entire movie.
  2. Be Passionate! Some people welcome responsibility, while others avoid it. The willingness and capacity to assume and accept responsibility is a key indicator of Elite Leadership. Often, this requires some level of development and anyone aspiring to this level of Leadership, must have the passion and drive to develop. They must be able to answer the following questions: (a) Are you ready to discover and strengthen your leadership competencies? (b)) Are you able to take and apply constructive feedback in an effort to improve? (c)) Are you willing to abandon unproductive and ineffective habits and behaviors and embed new ones? If the answer is Yes then we have the foundation to develop the required Leadership Competencies.
  3. Assess strengths and be honest about potential blind spots. Any developmental approach needs starting point. (I always begin with an assessment of character and behavior that provides not only a profile of your current leadership style, but an identification of your default style when in crisis.) What are you really good at? What needs work? What characteristics would you like to change? What characteristics would you like to acquire? What behaviors are holding you back? What behaviors are necessary to move you forward? It’s also desirable to seek feedback from peers, direct reports, subordinates; anyone that you think can provide valuable insight. While this can be difficult at times, if you’re being honest with yourself, much of what you hear shouldn’t surprise you.
  4. Improve Cognitive & Social Skills. Effective leaders are smart. That doesn’t mean you have to have an Einstein IQ, but it does mean that you need to be confident in what you’e doing, assess situations and events judiciously and make sound decisions. Learn more about your business and your people. Learn how to collect and analyze data to inform and support your decisions. Be socially astute by learning to be tactful and measured in communications and seeing things from others’ perspectives. Solicit information from your team, your peers and your superiors. Even highly effective leaders work with a coach or mentor to help them reveal blind spots and reinforce their strengths and talents.
  5. Improve Emotional Skills. While being smart is a major asset, it isn’t everything. An effective leader also needs to be emotionally intelligent, which is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and handle interpersonal relationships thoughtfully with empathy. The ability to read and sense others’ emotions and monitor your own in response is critical. In short, this how Elite Leaders show up!
  6. Strengthen Character! Albert Einstein once said Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character. Character and Behavior are inexorably linked. Leaders can be smart and technically competent, but can and will fail spectacularly if the they lack the ability do the right thing. The Leadership Graveyard is full leaders who inspired and motivated masses, but for absence of character and integrity, became infamous villains. Character is critically important for keeping a leader on the right path.
  7. Set Realistic Goals. If you’ll read a Blog Post I wrote entitled Leaders, Are Your Goals Overrated?, you’ll understand this recommendation. Whatever qualities you’re trying to develop or strengthen, it’s important to set meaningful developmental goals. They need to be specific, tangible, measurable and achievable.
  8. Get Feedback. It’s vital to receive feedback throughout the development process. Having an experienced mentor or coach who provides honest and constructive feedback is invaluable. In lieu of that, collaborating with a partner-peer, who’s also working on leadership development will allow you to give each other feedback. Another strategy is to ask your direct reports or employees how they perceive you and if they have noticed improvement. Don’t be discouraged by slow progress or the occasional misstep, as those can be used as learning learning opportunities to further develop your competencies.
  9. Reward Progress. Leadership development is hard work. You’ll be pushing boundaries, stepping out of comfort zones and exploring new territory. When you find yourself breaking through a barrier, it’s important to recognize it, not only to yourself but to others.
  10. Strive for Continuous Improvement. I’ve noted in many of my postings, video broadcasts and podcasts, my penchant for continually seeking out data, information and feedback that will improve my ability to help others. My primary objective is simple. I want to stay as simple, relevant and compelling to others as long as I possibly can. Benjamin Franklin once said Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning. Developing leadership competencies is an evolution, not a revolution. It’s a continuous path to becoming the best version of you.
Truth be told, if more Leaders would invest in their development with the degree of importance they place on achieving productivity and profitability objectives, they’d achieve those objectives many times over any expectations they may have had.