What It Takes to Lead

LeadersLeadership has become one of the fastest growing academic fields in higher education and the subject of many articles. People want to know what it takes to rise to the top. There is no one answer.

Are leaders born or made? Both. Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer of N2growth says, and I agree, “It is not how a leader comes by their skill that is relevant. It only matters that they possess the requisite skills for the job, and that they are willing to apply those skills for the benefit of those they lead. Some people are born with innate qualities that predispose them to being leaders, and other people, while not naturally gifted with leadership ability can acquire it. I’ve personally witnessed the shy and introverted develop presence, the greedy become giving, the arrogant develop an authentic sense of humility, the foolish become discerning and wise, people who struggled with decision making learn solid decision skills, etc.”

Employing the resources to recognize your own style, strengths and areas for growth is well worth the investment. A great business coach, like mine, can help you see things in a way you hadn’t considered before to help you and your business grow.

There is no perfect leader and no single right way to lead. Likewise, there is no list of traits that will determine if you can, are or will be a great leader someday. However, there are, of course, many published Top 10 lists around the subject. The Forbes’ “Top 10 Qualities of Leaders” and ”     ” I believe of note. My take on the Top 10 Qualities of Leaders:



1. Honesty
It truly is the best policy. Other versions of a story require a lot of extra work–dreaming them up, remembering them and then relaying them in a believable manner. I’m no good at any of that. I stick to the truth. It’s easier, more efficient, and besides, it’s the ethical thing to do.

“The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.” –Dwight Eisenhower

2. Ability to Delegate
Delegating effectively is mandatory for growth. It’s not just about finding someone that can do what you need them to and handing off the work. It’s about surrounding yourself with team members that will thrive with your leadership style and work environment and providing them with a clear vision statement for the company and them.

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” —General George Patton

3. Communication
The ability to communicate clearly and concisely is more important than ever–how concisely will vary with each team member though. Two-thirds of the working population prefers to have a three-minute warm-up discussion before discussing work like: How was your weekend? Have you seen any good movies lately? I sometimes become so hyper-focused on the task at hand, I forget to chit-chat.

“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” —General Colin Powell

4. Humor
Laughter really is the best medicine. Humor and laughter are believed to strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain and protect you from the damaging effects of stress.

“I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.” —Woody Allen

5. Confidence
Does this mean every great leader has to be a loud boisterous type? No. Does it mean that all those presenting their point of view in a confident tone are coming from a place of knowledge and experience? No.

Confidence can be an elusive quality that is difficult to measure, but you know it when you see it. I also feel like I know it when I see what I’d call “unfounded confidence.” Unfounded confidence can be seen in my twelve-year-old son that just this morning insisted with the utmost confidence that he did not leave the light on in his room. This unbridled confidence that has not yet been tempered with time and experience can be dangerous in the work place. A true leader’s confidence must be grounded in fact and experience. It has to be earned over time.

“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.” —Tony Blair

6. Commitment
If you expect your team to work hard, they have to see you working hard too. In my opinion this doesn’t mean you have to be texted and e-mailing during off hours constantly, but it does mean that you are willing to roll up your sleeves when your team needs you. As a leader you must keep commitments no matter how small they may seem, like buying everyone dinner or supporting their further education.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” —Jack Welch

7. Positive Attitude
I believe it’s the only way to be. There is a bright side and solution to everything. Sometimes it may not be apparent in the moment, but be confident that it will come. Your positive outlook will not only be apparent to your team, but also your customers. The leader sets the tone for the company and morale is linked to productivity. Even in the face of adversity, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

“Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.” —Brian Tracy

8. Creativity
We live in a world where everyone can Google any topic and have access to multiple points of view on any given topic. A creative approach to solve problems is the differentiator. No longer creativity a skill relegated to the artistic fields, it’s important in even the most uncreative environments.

“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not. ”
― Pablo Picasso

9. Intuition
As the Forbes writer, Prive, states, “When leading a team through uncharted waters, there is no roadmap on what to do. Everything is uncertain, and the higher the risk, the higher the pressure. That is where your natural intuition has to kick in. Guiding your team through the process of your day-to-day tasks can be honed down to a science. But when something unexpected occurs, or you are thrown into a new scenario, your team will look to you for guidance. Drawing on past experience is a good reflex, as is reaching out to your mentors for support. Eventually though, the tough decisions will be up to you to decide and you will need to depend on your gut instinct for answers. Learning to trust yourself is as important as your team learning to trust you.”

“The leader has to be practical and a realist yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist.” —Eric Hoffer

10. Ability to Inspire
Creating a business often involves a bit of forecasting. Especially in the beginning stages of a startup, inspiring your team to see the vision of the successes to come is vital. Make your team feel invested in the accomplishments of the company. Whether everyone owns a piece of equity, or you operate on a bonus system, generating enthusiasm for the hard work you are all putting in is so important. Being able to inspire your team is great for focusing on the future goals, but it is also important for the current issues. When you are all mired deep in work, morale is low, and energy levels are fading, recognize that everyone needs a break now and then. Acknowledge the work that everyone has dedicated and commend the team on each of their efforts. It is your job to keep spirits up, and that begins with an appreciation for the hard work.

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” —Bill Gates

I would add an 11th:

11. Visionary
Every successful business is backed by a smart plan. It takes courage to see things in a new way and share that vision with others. But when you do, it’s powerful.

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” —John Maxwell

Finally, remember it’s not all about you. It starts with you, but there is nothing more valuable than your employees. They can help you in areas where you personally need development. They can support you with the things you don’t have the time to do or aren’t as capable. The single most powerful predictor of a leader’s success is the team they have built to support them and their company vision. Invest in yourself and a great team. The rest will follow.

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” —Jim Rohn

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