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True Leadership: What Separates a Leader from a Boss

True Leadership: What Separates a Leader from a Boss

No matter how small (or big) the team you're trying to lead is, there're always challenges that make leadership difficult. Maybe your team is experiencing some setbacks and the morale is kind of low at the moment. Maybe there're members who can't keep up with the progress like everyone else. Or maybe your team always misunderstands what you mean, making it difficult to keep your vision and their work in sync.

Leadership is never meant to be easy. But if you understand what leadership really means, you're one great step closer to becoming a successful leader.

Leadership is an art of enabling others to work toward the same goal together.

    There is not a single definition of leadership and it varies depending on the type of leader — the CEO of a company, the captain of a sports team, a religious leader, a political leader, etc. However, when we talk about leadership in general, according to leadership expert James McGregor Burns, leadership is a process in which "leaders and their followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation".[1]

    A leader creates visions and motivates team members to work together towards the same goal.

    With a good leader, people are motivated to grow and will perform their best to reach the goal.

    A leader is the charismatic head of a group of people, who possesses the skills to lead, inspire and influence the others to pursue their personal growth and the team's goals. Leaders are important as they have a great impact on a team's performance. Good leaders will maximize the team's productivity, shape positive cultures and promote harmony and open communication within the team.[2]

    A great leader is the source of inspiration and motivation for the team.

    A good leader works together with the team when facing difficulties,[3] while at the same time giving them great freedom with how they complete tasks. This fosters creativity and eventually benefits the team as a whole. They also ensure a friendly working environment for each member to make contributions, and compliment and encourage the team from time to time.

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    A great leader promotes values by setting examples.

    A great leader is the role model for their team. They set standards that they themselves follow consistently through their own behaviors, such as punctuality, honesty and integrity, etc., which are beneficial to the success of the team.

    All successful leaders share the same traits, no matter what kind.

    If you want to become a better leader, learn about the following traits that all successful leaders share.

    1. Visionary

    Vision is the ability to foresee the future and set goals for the team to achieve. A leader helps the team to start and continue working toward the right direction, doing the right thing at the right time. Without visions, a leader might make confusing and misleading plans for the team, which would eventually harm the results of the team.

    2. Committed

    Commitment to the role of a leader means leading by example. If you are a team member, would you be willing to follow a leader who acts differently than the rules they set for you? Very unlikely. A leader must have high standards for themselves and act consistently, so that the team members will respect their leadership.

    3. Curious

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    A leader must be knowledgeable about what they work on in order to help solve any problems that arise. They should always be curious and never stop learning. They should also know the team members well enough to act for their own good. Without knowledge and a strong curiosity, one is unlikely to be able to lead the team to solve problems. Team members are also very likely to challenge the authority of the leader.

    4. Confident

    Confidence is to be self-assured without being aggressive. A leader needs to be assertive at times to show their authority and confidence, so the team members are convinced to follow their orders and plans. A leader also represents a team with its own benefits and concerns. For instance, in a company with complex organization, the leader represents the rights of their team members and that is when confidence is required.

    5. Morally good

    Integrity is a must for a respectable leader. A leader without integrity, who says one thing and does another, can hardly convince team members to respect them. Without respect, a leader won't be able to persuade the team to do anything for the company and leads to inefficiency in the team.

    6. Trusting

    A leader should trust the team members' abilities. Walking around every 30 minutes to check on the team's progress, or challenging them for everything they do will not build trust in the team. Give team members a little faith and space to do their jobs, no one wants a pushy paranoid leader.

    7. Decisive

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    Decisiveness is essential to every business and company. As a team, we will have to make hard decisions within a short period of time under a high-pressure environment. That is when a leader should assume their role, and utilize their own knowledge and perhaps the opinion of the members to make a decision before it is too late.

    8. Positive

    Optimism is a crucial part of leadership. There will be times when the team has low morale or feels lost in the middle of a project. A positive leader finds the positives in the midst of the negatives and encourages the team members to keep moving forward. A pessimistic leader at work can hardly believe anything good will happen in the end.

    9. Humble

    A humble leader keeps track of their own performance, decisions and accomplishments and reflects constantly if there's anything they can do better. By having self-reflection everyday, a leader can understand more about what they're good and bad at, and can improve themselves accordingly.

    It is not easy to acquire all these characteristics in a short period of time, but you can learn and practice more to become a better leader.

    To become a good leader, try to start by following the leaders you look up to.

    There is always something that we can learn from successful leaders. Following the one you look up to is exactly the way for you to kick start your journey to being a good leader.[4]

    Pick out 5 of your favorite leaders and ask yourself why you like them. Is it because of their speaking skills, their attitude to work, their confidence or the way they can make everyone listen? Start by learning what you think are the necessary characteristics and skills that a great leader possesses, and put it into practice in your daily life leading positions.

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    Remember, you can learn not only from their success but also their mistakes! Look at Henry Ford. Ford Motor Company may be a success today, but Ford did not build it without first failing hard. It was through paying attention to his every tiny mistake and working out the underlying problem that led him to the eventual success.[5]

    In order to be able to teach others, learn something new about your expertise every day.

    Although it might sound cheesy, it is always right to "stay foolish, stay hungry".

    Learn a new thing about your expertise, job or market every day to better equip yourself as a great leader. Never stop learning. Do not forget to make records of what you have learned simply jotting down notes in a notebook or in an note-keeping app, because one day your team members will need your advice, and your knowledge has to be accumulated.

    Always ask for feedback, an active leader never waits.

    One of the traits some successful leaders possess is that they are always looking to improve. Instead of waiting for the team members to give you feedback, actively ask them for feedback.[6] Stay open to criticism because everyone has their blind spot, and having honest team members sharing their feedback is valuable for a leader's growth.

    Are you ready to become a leader? Stop wasting time and kick start your journey now by learning from the leaders you admire. Remember, mistakes might happen along the way and that is completely normal. Believe in yourself and do not be afraid to make mistakes.

    Featured photo credit: Flaticon via flaticon.com

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    Emilie Chu

    Amateur Performer, Traveller, Optimist and Empath

    True Leadership: What Separates a Leader from a Boss

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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!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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