At seven years-old, I led neighborhood children on adventures entirely of my own making. For all of my life, I’ve had an unexplained knack for leading. As a tutor and teacher in schools and preschools, I’ve seen natural leaders at age four and seven. It’s not the kid that’s bossing everybody around, although, one might assume. It’s the kid that leads effortlessly, moving easily between groups and accomplishing in seconds what the “bossy kid” took hours to accomplish. Although, I am confident leadership can be developed, I’ve also concluded that some leaders are born.
I thought about this recently, and decided to get down to the bottom of the phenomenon so that I could discover how everyone could learn to lead organically.
Believe Deeply In the World You Can Create
Leaders believe in their ideas so deeply that they attract others into their ideological polarity. It is difficult to convince people entirely of an idea if you do not first believe in it yourself. Organic leaders are so absolutely invested in the ideas they espouse that they do not actually need followers to continue on the path for which they travel. Tip: Find something you truly believe in; or a project you can really get behind at work and pursue it. If you’re a manager, find meaning in the project you are assigned so that you can complete it with enthusiasm, and not just mechanics.
Self-Confidence is one of the hardest commodities to attain these days. It’s difficult to attain because self-confidence is built. It comes from extrapolating the best out of every situation (good or bad) and laying it to your credit. Self-confidence is built on your failures as much as on success. If you don’t take real responsibility for your actions you cannot build credible self-confidence. Learn who you are and who you are not. If you are not willing to acknowledge the truth about yourself, you will be stuck in a state of insecurity.
Tip: Own the mistakes you make, acknowledge what is good about yourself and others.
Learn to Teach and Relate to Others
Teaching is the effective use of bidirectional communication to transfer ideas to the student for long term reference. Knowing how to relate and teach others helps you to become relevant to the other person as a leader. We’ve all had at least one boring professor/teacher that went on and on in a monotone. We hated the class because we didn’t learn from him and he did not truly attempt to relate to us. He simply regurgitated information and never attempted to engage our minds or hearts.
Tip: Engage your people in meetings. If it’s a one-way monologue it’s already a bad meeting.
Aim To Be Approachable
The idea of the unapproachable leader is legendary. We all know of the Fire-breathing boss and the venomous head matron daring us to approach with our metaphoric bowl-in-hand and ask, “Please sir, may I have some more.” While there will always be a level of respect that comes with the title of leader, being a prickly leader will only foster mistakes, secrecy and malevolent feelings on your team. Most fire-breathing bosses do not know just how little influence they wield over their subordinates or how much professional opportunities they forego.
Tip: Aim to be respected and approachable; listen to ideas and grievances without rancor or retaliation. Act judiciously and fair, in the best interest of everyone.
Be Willing to Listen and Understand
It can be tempting as a team lead to behave like a stressed-out parent. Little junior tells his dad that he just got into an accident with the family car, and before Junior can finish speaking, his dad has already gone into a rage. That is a mistake for bosses as much as it is for parents. If you are willing to listen and understand regardless of the event, you gain a better understanding of the individual as well as the events that transpired.
Tip: Keep your cool head and open your ears. Think about the team member’s proposition a bit before you answer. Ask for clarity. If you need more time to digest the idea, tell them you will get back to them on it—and be sure to get back to them!
Develop Your Ability to Advocate (Empathize)
The best leaders fight for their people and become their advocate. Learn to empathize with others and put yourself in their place. Advocates speak on behalf of another and champion their cause. An advocate helps another to reach the goals s/he seeks to reach. Advocates provide an invaluable service, which makes them servants. Servant leaders speak on behalf of their people to defend, support, and promote.
Tip: If there is an opportunity to promote or advocate, DO IT!
Great leaders seek to be authentic. They want to communicate themselves to others openly and truthfully. They help others accomplish goals and recognize ideas rather than steal and claim them for themselves and selected allies. Leaders are trying to build up their entire team as much as they are trying to build up themselves. So they fundamentally understand that in-authenticity and subterfuge breeds low morale, antipathy and disloyalty.
Tip: It’s OK not to know everything. A team is built on the greatness of many minds. And a leader is the embodiment of a unity of wills. Remain authentic.
Cultivate Personal Strength
you can derive personal strength from a number of contributors. Most notably, personal strength is exponentially increased by a great support system, love, self-confidence, intelligence, hope, personal fortitude and so on. One of the greatest sources of personal strength, is knowing that you can always recover from losses. Life does go on; so do not become fatalistic. Maybe the project went badly, or earnings for the year were below projections. Either way, there is always an opportunity to do better. And even if the company folds, you can always start another.
Tip: Arm yourself with optimism.