Leadership is rarely an innate quality in us. It is a combination of hard work, conviction and instinctive strategy, which needs to be developed and nurtured. When you see someone naturally charismatic and inspiring, you are disregarding an immense amount of work that goes behind the scene. This is precisely the reason why we are witnessing an increasing demand for cultivating this talent at the earliest of ages. Be it in sports, business or entrepreneurship, today’s youth is striving to sow the seeds of leadership in lure of future success.
Without further adieu, here are ten tips for the younger generation to ponder.
1. It all starts with a vision
People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision. —John Maxwell
The true essence of leadership begins with envisioning a set of goals. Don’t just have a vague image in your mind but define the target with focussed clarity. Think through the final result over and over to make sure you will be committed till the end.
But stating objectives is not enough. Enforcing the purpose and mission are equally important. Provide a clear and realistic path to your team. Believe in you and be persistent when things look difficult. Without John F Kennedy’s ambitious vision, Neil Armstrong would not be the first man on the moon. No dream is too big until you have realized it.
2. Communicate often and clearly
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
Communication is the fundamental link between vision and reality. Deliver the message concisely and with conviction so that it permeates through all levels of the organization. Your people need to understand why they are working on a task, what they should be doing and where it will lead them to. This entails having good presentation skills, being a good listener and facilitating problem solving. Effective communication skills make a standout leader.
3. Don’t underestimate the power of optimism
If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. – Milton Berle.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a leadership program organized by Walt Disney. My biggest takeaway was this remarkable story: It was 1928 in New York, when Walt learned that his distributor hired most of Disney’s animators to start a new studio. He practically lost everything, including his staff, the contract, his income and the hit character Oswald, the Rabbit. He immediately sent a telegram to his brother Roy saying, “Don’t worry. Everything okay. Will give details when I arrive”. On his three day journey back to Hollywood, Walt took out his sketchbook and created the character of Mickey Mouse. Within a year, Mickey was the most popular cartoon in the world.
Optimism helps channel the negative energy of fear and uncertainty towards driving innovation. As a leader, you will be surrounded by skeptics. Reject pessimism and turn the volume up on positivity.
4. Motivate and empower
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. —John Quincy Adams
Without the right kind of stimulus, people produce mediocre work and drain out quickly. Some get inspired by power, some by incentives, some by appreciation and some by interesting work. It is your responsibility to identify specific motivation factors in your employees and empower them. Your effort to nourish the team will also indicate that you care for them, which in turn is a great fuel to boost productivity and loyalty.
5. Accept feedback generously
Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. —John F. Kennedy
One if the best ways to grow and improve is by graciously accepting constructive feedback. Many managers, especially CEOs, by way of their power, find it demeaning to be ‘advised by their juniors’. However, your people hold the key to invaluable information that can make you more successful. So leave your ego behind, and ask what you can do better. You may choose to do that in a more informal setting or through a defined 360-degree feedback model.
6. Lead by example
You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case. —Ken Kesey
Teaching by force and directive orders is passé. This is the generation of producing future leaders by walking the talk. Don’t waste hours trying to convince people. Instead, demonstrate the benefits of a particular decision by your own action. You cannot expect others to do what you would not do. Besides garnering respect and trust, you will be able to set higher standards and achieve better results.
The easiest way to begin is by thinking of your role model. Who would you want to emulate? What kind of traits does that person have?
7. Take responsibility and own up
A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit. —John Maxwell
Say no to passing blame onto others. It’s the most diminishing quality any leader can possess. Being at the top implies taking ownership of your vision and your team’s actions. In spite of having a robust set of internal controls, any organization will have its share of slip-ups and errors. You will need a whole lot of courage to apologize for mistakes and take measures to improve upon them.
8. Use power to drive change
Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm. —Publilius Syrus
In the book, Onward: How Starbucks fought for its life without losing its soul, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz shares his remarkable story, giving us many leadership lessons. Eight years after stepping down from the daily oversight of Starbucks, Schultz returned as CEO in 2008. His aim was to bring back the core values that Starbucks was originally known for. He took some drastic decisions, including closing 900 stores and shutting the remaining 11,000 US stores for a day to retrain 115,000 people. The media questioned the relevance of these changes, but Schultz explained, “It was honest, it was authentic and it was necessary”.
As a leader you are often faced with challenges that require bold and unconventional decisions. Trust your instincts and use your authority to your advantage. Change is imminent to establish an environment for continous growth.
9. Cultivate patience
Patience and perseverance have a magical affect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish – John Quiny Adams
Successful leaders are proactive yet patient. They understand that a lifespan consists of periods of sprint followed by periods of recovery time. Many of us are prone to snap-decisions under deadlines and pressure. Be careful when you are influenced by excitement and wish to see quick results. This especially holds true for small businesses and start-ups, where patience can make or kill. The Dutch often say that a handful of patience is worth a bushel of brains.
10. There is no ‘One’ leadership style
In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. —Thomas Jefferson
When there are no two people in this word exactly alike, how can there be a single way to lead? Daniel Goleman studied around 3000 mid level managers, uncovering six different leadership styles - Commanding, Visionary, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting and Coaching. Emotional intelligence being the driver, each of these techniques has a deep impact on organizational climate. While some approaches have a more negative influence, they are apt for certain circumstances and people.
Effective leaders have all these cards up their sleeve and address the demands of the particular situation. They are flexible and keep switching from one style to the other. Which one do you identify the most with? Its time to buckle up and learn the remaining styles.
Featured photo credit: Flickr via flickr.com
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