A leader is not always the brightest shining star; a leader is someone who brings out the light in others through their words, their actions, and their attitude. Here are 10 simple ways you can become a better leader.
Take a moment to think of a leader you admire. It can be someone close to you, or someone who has inspired you from afar.
What characteristics does that person have?
Historically, our culture has admired and celebrated leaders who are larger-than-life, in your face, shining stars of their arenas; usually brilliant extroverts who have excelled, innovated, and revolutionized in their field. Traditionally, a leader is seen as this aspirational persona that has authority and power, who others admire, revere, and serve. We build monuments to them, we write books and make movies about them, we revere them from afar.
Our business culture also tends to equate managers with leaders, but there’s a difference between the two. You can be a manager, but not a leader; you can be a leader and not a manager. A manager is simply someone who is responsible for planning and directing the operations of a business unit, division or department within an organization, and who is generally responsible for overseeing the work of a group of people.
For years we’ve been programmed to think that management means assigning work to subordinates, evaluating their performance, hiring, firing, forecasting, budgeting, planning, controlling, and calling the shots. We’ve been taught that managers take the glory and employees get little to no praise for their contributions. We often hear stories about terrible managers, who use pressure and intimidation to get results from their employees or who simply expect results without giving any coaching, feedback, or direction.
A leader is someone who may or may not oversee a group of people, but in either case is someone who inspires and supports those around them, bringing out their best work and characteristics through their attitude as much as their actions. But a leader is not always the person who makes the most noise or even gets the most credit. In fact, a true leader is someone who creates the conditions for those around him or her to thrive and elicits greatness by inspiring others through virtues like passion, empathy, courage, and integrity. They are not always in a position of power; sometimes they simply choose to step up to the plate and sometimes they do so behind the scenes. But the one thing they have in common is that they attract and inspire others, helping them reach new heights and achieve their goals in terms of well-being as well as professional development.
Managers are transactional while Leaders are transformational. So how do you become a great leader? Here are 12 steps to follow.
The first step is to put aside your ego and realize leadership is not about you at all; it’s about the people around you. If you want to be a leader in order to shine and be recognized, you’ve already started off on the wrong foot. Bragging, showboating your accomplishments, and trying to convince people of their greatness is more likely to turn people off and generate dissociation and disconnect amongst your team than it is to inspire them.
Humility allows us to acknowledge our limitations, seek solutions, and accept new ideas. A leader does not need to be –nor should be- an expert at everything. Trying to be good at everything leads to burnout. Have the courage to choose the areas where you will excel and then give yourself permission to not be great at others – then surround yourself with people who are.
Humble leaders acknowledge, listen to, and bring people together. They encourage, support, and guide their team to tap into their full potential and be more successful. This comes in great part from self-awareness, which involves an accurate sense of your personal strengths and weaknesses. People who are self-aware fully realize their potential for impact and influence by recognizing their blind spots and knowing when emotions or predispositions can distort their thinking.
Self-awareness involves critical thinking, gathering data, and processing it to cultivate discipline, self-regulation, and self-control. Self-aware leaders know what they don’t know and are not afraid to admit it, which is why they surround themselves with great people and work with them as a team, sharing both the responsibilities and the credit when things go well.
Some people confuse sympathy – feeling compassion or pity for another person’s circumstances – and empathy. Empathy is putting yourself in another person’s shoes to understand their experience, perspective, and mindset. Some call it “vicarious introspection” because it involves thinking about the why behind another person’s ideas, actions, or emotions.
True leadership is less about trying to get it right, and more about focusing your energy on the well-being and success of the people around you. This involves understanding their background, their why and how, and using that to bring out their best.
It all starts with trust, and trust is a two-way street. A leader’s capacity to inspire trust is essential to motivate a team, foster loyalty, help them endure and manage difficult situations, and boost morale, retention, innovation, and revenue. To earn this trust, a leader should keep the team informed, be fair and objective, share feelings openly, and be honest and reliable.
But a leader also needs to have the capacity to trust others so that employees feel secure, confident, and empowered to take initiative, give suggestions, share their views, direct their decisions, maintain their promises, and earn the respect of the team. In an atmosphere of trust, the entire team will be less hesitant to take risks, go the extra mile, and contribute in new and creative ways.
Build a sense of community or family
A team is usually made up of people with different backgrounds who share a common goal. A great way to build a sense of community is to highlight the connections between the team’s mission and each team member’s personal mission. Be open and inclusive, encourage all voices to speak up without fear of judgment, and encourage participation in decision-making.
Set a clear direction
When everyone is clear on the mission, going in the same direction and working towards the same goal, people know that their decisions and actions matter. Setting a clear direction creates a way of knowing the steps they need to take as well as when they have reached the destination.
Empower your people
You’ve heard the phrase “Hire great people and let them do their work.” The purpose of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. So coach them, help them set career paths and goals so they’re motivated to go the extra mile. Leaders allow people to design their own positions as much as possible and to put their own stamp on their work, as long as they’re reaching their goals.
Give your team the tools and resources to grow
Tools can be anything from instruments like computers and software, to learning resources like courses and workshops, to feedback and encouragement. Coaching and setting clear goals and career paths will help teams stay on course and grow their skills as much as their results.
Let go of fear
Fear of failure can lead to paralysis and stagnation of ideas. Don’t be afraid to fail – taking risks can lead to huge rewards, and even when they don’t, some of the biggest lessons are learned from the biggest mistakes.
Challenge the status quo
At times it can be scary to go against the current and tell your company’s leadership something they don’t want to hear, but doing so can bring innovation and improve the way things are done. Even if your ideas are not embraced, it will develop your leadership muscles and grow your credibility. It’s important to encourage your team to do the same, and speak up when they believe there is a better way to get things done.
Take less of the credit
A leader is at the front of the line in challenging times, and at the back of the room when it comes time for praise and victory. This goes back to the idea that a leader is not necessarily the person who does the greatest things, but the one who gets others to do great things. In any case, when you’re working as a team, achievements should be shared just as much as the workload is.
Don’t wait your turn or ask permission
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that leaders are not always in a position of power. Sometimes they are behind the scenes but still manage to get people to rally behind them for a common goal, inspiring them to reach their purpose and overcome any obstacles.
Leadership is a frame of mind, it’s about making others better as a result of our presence, and having that last into our absence. It’s about how effective you are at enabling the success of other people.
Even if you are not currently managing a team, don’t let that stop you from being a leader. It takes tenacity and stamina, but if you are someone who inspires confidence and trust, brings optimism to challenges, attracts others, and elicits greatness, if you’re someone who people can count on, then you are well on your way to becoming a leader.