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Published on May 22, 2018

10 Qualities of a Leader (Advanced Version for Leaders Who Aim High)

10 Qualities of a Leader (Advanced Version for Leaders Who Aim High)

Whether you’re trying to start your own business, manage a team of employees or just run an effective neighborhood meeting, you understand the challenges of leadership on a personal level. You’re expected to have the answers to every question, you’re responsible for inspiring and motivating people (no matter how unmotivated they started), and worst of all, there’s no one above you to turn to for advice or direction—it all has to come from you.

There’s no blueprint for how to become a successful leader, and there’s evidence on both sides of the argument for whether great leaders are born or made.[1] You can’t expect to naturally be an effective leader, nor can you ever expect to become a perfect leader. But if you study the qualities of a leader from examples of the past and scientific evidence, you can steer your behavior, your habits and your outlook in a more favorable direction.

So let’s take a look—what does it take to become a great leader?

1. Hold firm convictions to inspire followers and radiate confidence.

Holding firm convictions means you’ll be almost stubborn in your adherence to your values, beliefs and vision for the future. That doesn’t mean you ignore people when they disagree with you (in fact, as you’ll see, flexibility is important), but it does mean you have significant integrity, and you’re likely to stay true to your values, no matter what happens.

Research shows a high correlation between uncertainty and stress;[2] if your employees aren’t sure what you’re going to think about a new idea, or if they feel like you change your positions too frequently, they may not be able to focus on their jobs or be as productive as they could. They might also have less respect for you as a leader.

There’s a famous anecdote about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs that demonstrates his ruthless convictions.[3] when introducing a prototype of the iPhone, a friend criticized the touch keyboard, stating that users would strongly prefer traditional keyboards on their phones. Jobs’s response was “they’ll get used to it.” He’d already made up his mind, and was sure this was the correct path forward.

How to get started

To get started with this one, think carefully about which values and visions matter most to you. Then, frame them in your mind as unbreakable.

2. Use emotional intelligence (EQ) to improve both client and employee relationships.

Emotional intelligence (or EQ) is your ability to understand both your own emotions and the emotions of others.[4] It gives you more control over your own emotional states, meaning you’re less influenced by raw feelings and it allows you to handle interpersonal relationships with your employees with more empathy.

One study within a Fortune 400 insurance company found that individuals with high emotional intelligence received more merit increases, held higher company ranks and got better ratings from both peers and superiors.[5] This is attributable to EQ’s many benefits. These employees have better control over their own emotions and behaviors, work better with other people and are able to quickly resolve conflicts before they get out of hand.

How to get started

Getting started may prove difficult here. While some people naturally have high emotional intelligence, others take years to fully develop it.

If you’re just getting started, spend time paying attention to what other people are feeling and ask yourself why they’re feeling it. Regular periods of introspection will also help. Here you can find 7 Practical Ways To Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

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3. Master the art of communication to operate more efficiently (and boost morale).

Communication unfolds in many ways during your tenure as a leader. You’ll be leading in-person meetings, holding phone calls with clients and sending emails regularly. You’ll also be a part of heavy conversations, whether it’s breaking bad news to a client or firing an employee. Learning to communicate effectively is crucial to your success.

Ask any leader what the most valuable skills for success are, and they’ll likely list communication skills among them. Billionaire and serial entrepreneur Richard Branson, for example, has called communication “the most important skill any leader can possess.”[6]

Communication not only makes processes run smoother (thanks to efficient transmission of instructions and details), but also allows you to convey mood and urgency through your tone. Accordingly, it has objective and subjective impacts on your audience.

How to get started

Email is the easiest place to gain mastery here since you’ll have time to think through your sentences and use email productivity hacks to get even better.

Pay attention to your purpose, wording, and tone, and experiment until you find the right combination.

When speaking, try to speak slower and think through your sentences carefully. You’ll appear more confident and buy time to find exactly the right words for any situation.

4. Always favor action over inaction to preserve your team’s momentum.

Great leaders typically have the mentality that action is favorable to inaction. If you’re facing a problem, procrastinating is the worst thing you can do. Instead, commit to moving forward however you can, even if that means making a temporary “duct tape fix,” or even making a mistake.

U.S. President Harry S. Truman is quoted as once saying,

“Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.”

This is the man who dropped the atomic bomb—an action that’s been criticized for ending thousands of innocent lives, but also praised for possibly preventing even further casualties worldwide. It was a risky and heavy decision, but one that kept things moving forward.

How to get started

When you’re facing a problem or a decision point, think carefully about your options, and start leaning away from options that don’t require action (i.e., “let’s wait a month,” or “let’s keep things the way they are for a while.”)

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This article about making decisions can help you: 5 Tips for Lightning-Fast Decision Making

5. Be diplomatic to encourage new ideas and thorough discussion.

As important as it is to stay true to your convictions, it’s a terrible idea to lead through dictatorship. Instead, be diplomatic and encourage your employees to bring their ideas to the table—even if they outright contradict your own. Open discussions and listen to every idea that comes across your desk.

Many companies have made it a general policy to encourage ideas from their employees from the ground up. Google, for example, for a period of many years, gave its employees 20 percent of their working hours to work on any kind of projects they wanted to.[7]

And according to Dan Glaser of Marsh and McLennan Companies,[8]

“We have found that innovative ideas bubble up when you tap into an element of dissent.”

The research here indicates that companies that not only allow, but encourage and take advantage of disagreement, stand to benefit greatly.

How to get started

You can encourage this behavior by giving every employee time to express their ideas, whether it’s in meetings or a private setting. When you disagree, don’t cut down the idea; make a case for why yours is stronger and thank the employee for voicing their opinion.

The “safer” it is to voice a dissenting opinion, the more your employees will be willing to do it. Some more tips to help you make your team feel safe here.

6. Remain humble and admit your mistakes to discourage resentment or intimidation.

Not all of your strategies and decisions are going to work out. Learning to admit your mistakes and note the flaws in your thinking can actually be a strength. If you pretend you’re perfect or refuse to admit to your mistakes, one of two things will happen: your employees will become resentful of you, believing you to be narcissistic or delusional or they’ll be intimidated by you, thinking that mistakes are unacceptable.

At least one study has found that CEOs who demonstrate humility tend to perform better than their counterparts.[9] When a CEO is approachable, fallible and humble about their status, employees are more appreciative. Workplaces tend to be calmer and more unified, and leaders earn more respect.

How to get started

Humility is hard to teach but you can embody its core principles. If you make a mistake, admit it and laugh it off, and don’t be afraid to let down your guard in front of your employees. You’re human too. In fact, showing vulnerability actually proves your strength.

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7. Use patience to stabilize your emotions and make more logical and long-term decisions.

Stabilize your emotions when making decisions, and steer those decisions toward the most logical long-term approach. The most effective marketing strategies, for example, take months to years of time for development, but if you’re hasty and emotional in your decision-making, you might opt for a short-term strategy that yields rewards quickly, but has no distant future.

Jeff Bezos is one powerful anecdotal example here, almost every decision he makes as CEO is done with the future in mind.[10]Amazon is one of the most powerful and respected companies in the world, yet it doesn’t make much of a profit. Its excess revenue is constantly funneled back into the company to help it grow into new markets and investigate new opportunities for expansion.

How to get started

Before making a decision or choosing a path forward, remove yourself from the situation. Pretend you’re an unbiased onlooker and think about how you’d advise a stranger in this same situation. Then, imagine the consequences not just a week from now, but a month, a year and a decade from now.

8. Stay organized to set a good example for your employees.

Leaders are busy, so small levels of organization may seem like an unnecessary waste of time. However, staying organized is important not just for your own productivity, but also for your employees—who will be looking to you as an example.

This idea is illustrated by the fact that 75 percent of office workers believe that a disorganized office is a sign of deeper problems within a company.[11] If your desk is cluttered with papers, or if they can see your email inbox has 2,000 unread messages, they may believe something is wrong with the company—or with your approach as a leader. They may also have an excuse to be disorganized in their own roles, which can lead to even more productivity problems.

How to get started

Start paying closer attention to how you organize yourself and try to consistently present a clean, tidy image—even if things are more chaotic beneath the surface. Keep track of your own productivity and schedule 15 minutes a day to keeping your work and belongings organized.

9. Empower your employees to become leaders in their own realms.

You may be the head honcho of the organization but your business will run far smoother if you allow the people beneath you to be leaders of their own domains. Empower them to make their own decisions, discipline and reward their own underlings, and communicate how they see fit. This will take some of the pressure off you, improve the morale of the people you’ve inspired, and add more diverse opinions and approaches to your company culture.

Several amazing leaders have taken this approach. Elon Musk, for example, recently wrote an email to his staff about the importance of employee empowerment.[12] In it, he describes managers, in general, as a “bad idea.” In his view, every person within the company should take ownership of their own responsibilities and be empowered to make decisions and take risks as any leader would.

Former President Ronald Reagan, as another example, is quoted as saying,

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.”

It’s a policy many presidents have taken to heart.

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How to get started

It’s hard to introduce this idea to a workplace that’s been without it, but you can start by telling your managers and employees how much you trust them. Delegate decisions to them and don’t micromanage.

Set expectations in meetings and in individual employee reviews that you trust your employees to make their own decisions. When they start moving forward, making their own decisions, reward them for their independence and confidence to encourage the behavior even further.

This guide can help you to know how to delegate works for the best: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

10. Be decisive to demonstrate your authority.

Finally, exercise decisiveness to prove and radiate your authority. Leaders are primarily decision makers, which means you’ll be held accountable for the outcomes of those decisions, however they come.

Great leaders aren’t afraid to face the consequences, especially during periods of uncertainty. Instead, they make decisions quickly based on all the evidence they can gather, and hold firm to those decisions. This not only makes you appear more authoritative, it encourages more decisiveness and resolve within your employees as well.

Successful leaders are shown to be more decisive than their less successful counterparts.[13] This could be due to any number of secondary effects. For example, it could be that decisive leaders are better decision-makers overall, thinking through problems more comprehensively. It could also be that decisive leaders are more confident and inspire more from their underlings.

How to get started

Despite the advantages here, you still shouldn’t rush your decisions. Gather as much information as you can in a situation and pull the trigger as soon as you think it’s appropriate.

Delaying a decision or presenting yourself as “on the fence” can weaken your position. Changing your mind on a decision after it’s already been made (like allowing an employee to convince you not to fire him/her) will compromise your projected authority.

Making decisions under pressure is hard, some tips here maybe able to help: How to Make Decisions Under Pressure

Understand leaders to become a great leader

There are many different styles of leadership to consider, so naturally, these qualities of a leader may transform as you come into your own approach. But, how you use them isn’t nearly as important as understanding them and learning from them.

The better you know and understand the leaders who have come before you, the more tools you’ll have to shape your own style of leadership and become successful in any application you choose.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

More by this author

Anna Johansson

Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends.

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Published on March 19, 2019

How Your Attitude Determines Your Success

How Your Attitude Determines Your Success


Do you remember the last time you faced a major setback–when you felt so low, that nothing seemed to make you happy? No matter how hard you tried, you just felt like the world was against you. Perhaps it was a bad relationship, or the loss of a loved one… maybe something bad happened at work? Whatever it may be, could you recall how your attitude was towards that situation?

Often when we’re caught in an unhappy situation, we feel limited and sometimes trapped. We want to get out of it as quickly as we can, but it’s never quite that simple.

Unfortunately, some people can remain in that terrible situation for weeks, months or even years; while others may come out strong and ready to start over–or continue from where they left off–fairly quickly.

So what sets these two groups apart?

The answer is their attitude.

Attitude is everything when it comes to achieving a goal, and tackling a setback or problem. 

When you’re able to have a positive mindset, you’ll be able to break free of your limitations that are holding you back.

A positive attitude also goes a long way in ensuring you come out victorious from whatever limitations that were holding you back before. It transforms not just your mental state, but your physical and emotional well being. It is the key to lasting total transformation.

Positive Attitude Brings About Positive Health 

When you’re stuck in a rut, often the first thoughts that run through your head are negative, thus your outlook likely becomes pessimistic. But, if you can transform those thoughts into more positive ones, then you’re on your way to talking yourself out of that rut, which allows you to move forward.

Of course, positive thinking doesn’t mean ignoring all the bad or unpleasant feelings altogether. It just means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way–instead of taking everything as a victim to negative circumstances, you see it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Be aware of self talk!

These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative. Some of your self talk comes from logic and reason, while other self talk may arise from misconceptions that you create. Others could come from external sources such as negative people around you, or messages from the media.

The key is to surround yourself with positive influences that can help turn those negative thoughts into positive, more productive actions.You’ll not only feel better about the situation, but in the long run, positive thinking can lower your levels of distress and depression and give you better coping skills during hardships.

Researchers studying the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health have also found that positive thinking may provide increased life span, better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and even greater resistance to the common cold!

It’s unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits, but one theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body.

It’s also thought that positive and optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles — they get more physical activity, follow a healthier diet, and don’t smoke or drink alcohol in excess.

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Suffering is Inevitable, So It’s Best to Accept It 

Now, one thing that everyone goes through at some point, is suffering. It’s a harsh reality, yet you can’t actually avoid it. We experience suffering as the result of unhappiness, fear, anger, loss or frustration. In fact, it would be hard to even imagine the feeling of happiness if we never experienced suffering! How would we ever compare it?

So instead of wallowing in sorrow about the suffering you have endured, take the suffering as an opportunity for change. Did you get laid off from your job? Perhaps this would be a good time to re-assess your career goals.

Rather than feeling negative and stuck, use your time and energy to find opportunities which will put you ahead. With the right attitude, anything can seem possible.

This may sound crazy, but suffering is the secret to being successful! 

Here’s what I mean. It’s impossible to think of new ideas or understand new experiences without stepping outside of your comfort zone. Anyone who has met great successes has also faced many failures, as nobody wins on every try.

To propel you toward success, find a way to track your progress and to set and celebrate small benchmarks. It may be helpful to conduct a weekly review to assess where you are and acknowledge all of the small wins of the week. Every accomplishment, no matter how small, is an achievement; so, be sure to take note of them.

Tracking your progress is also a great way to find and mitigate triggers and hindrances that impede your progress. The point is, you’re making progress; even if it feels like suffering, you can see that it’s leading you to joy.

Remember, don’t compare yourself to others. Only compare yourself to who you were yesterday. Each step you make towards progress is making you a better version of you.

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Gratitude Goes a Long Way in Shaping Attitude 

Now, this may seem difficult to do when you’re already feeling down, but having gratitude is a very useful when you’re trying to navigate your way out of a setback. Being grateful for existing accomplishments and the supports in your life will help you see them more clearly, build your own confidence, and give you a better overall outlook on what your limitations really are and what you have to do to overcome them.

With a grateful attitude, you limit the damage of negative influences, and strengthen the impact of positive ones.

Being grateful, even during the toughest of times, steers your attitude towards a more positive one, allowing you to get back on your feet much more quickly. Many studies done on gratitude have shown positive results for people who practice regularly, such as improvement in relationships and in mental health. There’s even studies that show higher motivation in work settings due to a simple ‘thank you’ from managers to their subordinates.

Believe in Yourself and Your Truth

This is often easier said than done, but is also the most empowering truth to overcoming your setbacks and limitations in life.

Many people find it hard to keep a positive attitude during tough times because they lack inner confidence. They doubt their abilities because of the ‘failure’ that they’re experiencing, and don’t think that they can rise above again.

But, confidence doesn’t just come from talent, luck or easy opportunity. Confidence comes from overcoming difficulties and facing your fears head on. 

Confidence is a result of getting out of your comfort zone. The more you do this, the more confident you’ll be, and the more positive your attitude will be. Confidence will help you see your goals more clearly, find your strengths within, reach your goals and overcome your limitations much more quickly.

Here’s a quick story about my own struggles helping me get ahead:

When I first started Lifehack, it took a long time to gain a solid readership. Just getting 100 visitors was a challenge and took a good bit of time. I had great ambitions for this site, yet it seemed like I was doomed to fail. I received plenty of criticism, too. Some people thought that the world didn’t need yet another self help site, others offered the opinion that there was something wrong with the idea itself and I was making a mistake.

It was hard for me not to listen to them and, at some times, agree. But, persistence is key, and in the end I chose to believe in my truth.

I worked tirelessly changing the site layout, restructuring articles, and making the site more user friendly. Slowly, I expanded to a team with the hiring of some extremely dynamic and talented people. With each determined effort, the site grew in popularity, and a few years later, we had influenced millions–and continue to do so.

Pushing myself out of my comfort zone and facing every challenge head on were the greatest contributing factors to increasing my confidence. So welcome the challenges that come; don’t avoid them, as they’re all opportunities in disguise to feed your growth.

Your Attitude Sets the Tone for Success 

Do you see the importance of having a positive attitude? It is so much more than a mindset or state of mind. Your attitude sets the tone for every action and behavior that follows after, and that will determine how long it takes for you to break free from your current circumstance.

So if you’re currently in an unhappy situation, why not give it a try and look at things from a more positive outlook? As mentioned, not only does having a positive attitude bring about favorable outcomes, it also brings about positive health in the long run.

Embracing hardship as it is, and using it as a learning experience to grow, will also make you stronger. And, whether you’re going through good or bad times, practicing gratitude will no doubt help to limit the damage of negative influences, and strengthen the impact of positive ones.

Lastly, in any circumstance, you are your greatest barrier to success, which is why it’s important to always believe in yourself!

You will always have the power to be in control of your situation because your attitude is determined by you. So start harnessing all that positive thinking to turn those limitations into strengths!

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Featured photo credit: Photo by Jonathan Francisca on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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