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11 Inherent Traits Of Real Leaders

11 Inherent Traits Of Real Leaders

The success of our companies and countries ultimately depends on our leaders. In addition to skills, real leaders bring a set of important traits to their work. These traits are often developed and refinded through experience. These insights have come from a variety of leaders and leadership experts working in many different fields.

Let’s dive in and find out if you are a real leader by examining these inherent traits.

1. They are honest

In their classic leadership book, “The Truth About Leadership”, James M. Kouzes and Barry S. Posner surveyed people across the world regarding leadership. The far-ranging study found that honesty is the number one trait people want in their leaders. Without this strong moral foundation, a leader has no credibility.

TIP: Honesty matters to your work even if you are not in a leadership role – 4 Reasons Why You Should Always Be Honest.

2. They want the best for their people

Real leaders deeply value the people that work under their leadership. For example, entrepreneur Jon Taffer (known for his TV show Bar Rescue), demonstrates his belief in people by training them and giving them feedback to improve. As a result of his leadership, his company sees a turnover rate far lower than the industry average.

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To apply this principle to your leadership role, take the time to understand what your people want. Some staff may want schedule flexibility, while others will be focused on career advancement.

Resource: Four Leadership Tips to Bring Out the Best in Your Team.

3. They know their strengths

A key principle in management research tells us that top performance comes from working on our strengths. In their study of 2 million people, Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton found that working in your strengths is vital. Their insights are explained in greater detail in the book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths.”

TIP: Read Why Knowing Yourself Is Essential To Leadership.

4. They know leadership is influence

Leadership author and expert John C Maxwell has taught the principle that leadership is influence for decades in his speeches and books. Real leaders understand that they cannot simply rely on their title or formal authority to get results. Instead, they have to build up influence through relationships, setting a good example, and other means. A focus on influence means that you can begin to lead people, no matter your job title.

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TIP: Read 10 Ways to Positively Influence Others In The Workplace to discover how to use your influence skills for the common good.

5. They know motivation, inside out

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan, NBA Basketball champion

Motivating yourself to work and achieving results is the foundation for an effective leader. A good leader knows the importance of mastering their own motivation, even to keep working through dull activities. Armed with that understanding, real leaders motivate their people to keep working.

TIP: A few words, at the right time, make all the difference to motivation – 50 Motivational Quotes That Will Put Your Motivation on Overdrive.

6. They keep growing

Without a growing leader, an organization will struggle to grow. Dedicated leaders keep learning by reading books, working through conferences, and meeting with top performers. This principle holds true even if you fail to observe it. For example, Sarah Palin was unable to name any magazines or periodicals she reads to stay informed about current affairs during a 2008 interview with Katie Couric.

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TIP: Keep growing yourself through personal development – 22 Killer Personal Development Resources You’re Missing Out On.

7. They are ambitious for their organization

Real leaders know the importance of focusing on their organization, rather than their personal glory. Management researcher Jim Collins found that the best CEOs seek growth for their organization. While some “celebrity CEOs” achieve their results during their tenure, those results fade once they leave the C-suite.

To apply this principle, use it to make decisions. Ask the question, “Is this decision best for the organization or is it good for me?”

8. They keep working through challenges

Every leader faces major challenges and disappointments. What sets real leaders apart from the rest is their ability to work through setbacks. For example, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was declined admission to military school on his first application. He kept studying and applying until he was granted admission. Churchill’s determination to keep working at a challenging goal is a key trait that led him to success later in life.

TIP: Different challenges require different responses – 10 Challenges Leaders Always Face And How To Deal With Them.

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9. They value effective communication

Communication is a key skill that real leaders take the time to master. For example, Demosthenes became a highly successful public speaker and leader in ancient Greece through years of effort. For years, he struggled to speak effectively. How did he improve? He used a variety of methods, including speaking with pebbles in his mouth. Working through discomfort to grow your communication skills is an important trait among real leaders.

10. They are willing to admit when they are wrong

Leaders are constantly making decisions. From time to time, they will make mistakes. When those mistakes occur, real leaders know the importance of admitting the mistake and moving on. For example, President Obama admitted to making a mistake regarding a decision regarding Tom Daschle shortly after taking office. It is rare for a U.S. President to admit mistakes in office, yet Obama and other Presidents have done it on occasion.

TIP: To inspire you to own your mistakes, read How to Admit Your Mistakes.

11. They focus on the future

A future focus is a key trait for leaders. In “The Truth About Leadership,” the second most admired trait in leaders (after honesty) is to be forward-looking. While there is value in understanding the past, real leaders realize that they cannot change history. Even better, leaders know that their people are inspired by future potential, rather than revisiting past mistakes.

Resource: For a broader perspective, read The Seven Qualities of Visionary Leaders

Featured photo credit: Steve Jobs/Bob Stanfield via flickr.com

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Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham is a Project Management Professional and Founder and CEO of Project Management Hacks.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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