When most of us think of leaders, we usually focus on those individuals that stand out as particularly powerful, popular, or highly influential. We may think of current and past Presidents and politicians, world-renowned speakers and thought leaders, business and corporate gurus, even sports and entertainment celebrities.
But true leadership isn’t defined by popularity, external power or influence. Strong leaders are often at work in the background and out of the spotlight, comfortable and confident in their ability to affect change draw forth the best in others.
Leadership has nothing to do with title. A true leader does not desire power and control over others. Rather, a strong leader marks his or her success by the number of people they inspire and empower.
They do this not by force, intimidation or coercion, nor by way of their name, position or rank. They do so through their actions, and by demonstrating their personal power, values and integrity at all times.
Let’s look at what makes a strong leader, and what types of leadership goals inspire good leaders to become even better.
1. Developing Personal Responsibility and Self-Discipline
If you want to become a better leader, you need to fully understand and have leadership of yourself. In order to teach others to take responsibility and leadership in their own work and lives, a strong leader strives always to demonstrate and model these qualities.
This means accepting full responsibility for one’s life as it is, including one’s decisions, actions, behaviors and outcomes, be they positive or negative. It means viewing one’s mistakes and one’s successes with equal appreciation for the lessons and gifts they impart.
Being a strong leader also means practicing and developing self-discipline in order that one’s decisions and actions are undertaken in an unbiased and controlled manner, and that one is always fully aware of and prepared for the repercussions of those actions and decisions.
2. Learning to Fail Gracefully
A true leader strives for perfection while understanding that it is an illusion that can’t actually be attained. As such, they expect to fail at least as often as they succeed, and they simply count losses into the equation.
Trying to cover up or hide their mistakes and failures, giving in to rage, or blaming others for their losses not only makes them look foolish; it also deprives them of the opportunity to learn from their losses and grow as leaders.
A strong leader isn’t afraid or ashamed to fail, and instead fully examines the losses, scouring them thoroughly for opportunities for learning, making adjustments and improvements for the future. A leader refuses to let the value of their mistakes pass them by.
In this way, a good leader can walk away from his or her mistakes and failures with grace and dignity, thereby empowering and allowing others to do the same.
3. Practicing Careful and Active Listening
Canadian clinical psychologist and professor Jordan B. Peterson taught that we should treat every person we meet as if they know something valuable that we don’t.
In doing so, we approach each person, regardless of position or title, with the curiosity of a beginner’s mind, and we treat others in a way that is naturally respectful.
When a good leader practices active listening, not only does he or she foster respect in those they are leading, but they also gain from the wisdom that is inherent in each and every person.
4. Developing Well-Roundedness
An important key to success as a leader in any arena is developing multiple areas of competence.
This means potentially mastering separate disciplines which at first glance may not have an obvious connection, but that ultimately provides one with a robust and varied ‘toolbox’ of skills and knowledge to choose from when confronted with difficult or challenging situations. And even the loftiest of goals requires the skills and know-how to get things done in the real world.
Being well-rounded in one’s scope of experience and skills also means one will be better able to relate with, understand, and therefore lead a broader spectrum of people.
5. Building Resilience
This one goes hand in hand with #4 above. By always striving to increase and diversify his or her knowledge and competence, a good leader builds resilience in the face of hardship.
You might think of resilience as the opposite of powerlessness, but resilience is that set of qualities and character traits that allows us to remain flexible in times of change, to bend instead of breaking when we are faced with stresses and challenges, and to endure and overcome life’s inevitable hardships and failures.
Resilience can also be of a financial nature; laying a solid groundwork in which one is able to manage money without succumbing to temptation, being unduly influenced by passing trends, or behaving recklessly will allow one to weather financial storms gracefully and independently.
Learn more about building resilience in this guide: How to Build Resilience to Face What Life Throws at You
6. Developing Leadership Presence
To be an effective leader, one must gain the respect of others. It’s not enough to have the skills and knowledge to get things done – a leader must earn the loyalty and allegiance of those they are hoping to lead.
While confidence, communication skills and poise can certainly help create the aura of leadership, it’s not enough. No matter how polished you are, if you are not a person of integrity, your power will be paper thin.
Integrity comes from knowing who you are, being clear on your core values and what you stand for, and then behaving and speaking in line with all of that. You cannot hope to inspire loyalty, honesty and respect in others if you do not behave in a manner that is honest, loyal and respectful.
Humility and open-mindedness are other vital qualities to foster if you hope to be an inspiring and respected leader.
7. Identifying and Fostering Leadership in Others
Followers are important. People who take direction and run the minute operations of complicated processes literally make the world run.
The role of the leader, on the other hand, is primarily to mentor, delegate and direct others. He or she understands that it is vitally important to make themselves redundant by creating new leaders who can eventually step into the role they currently occupy.
True leaders of industry and business know that they need to surround themselves with competent people in order to succeed, and will actively seek out and foster leadership qualities in others.
They are not concerned with maintaining top rank or preserving ego – they understand that encouraging others to improve and become leaders ultimately means they can reach their goals faster, and this benefits them as well as the entire organization/business/society.
8. Understanding Persuasion
Being a good leader is essentially an exercise in psychology and human behavior. A leader understands that all people, including themselves, are emotional creatures, and that they will not respond positively to instructions, information or guidance to which they feel hostility, confusion or doubt.
As a result, a leader knows he or she must learn to effectively communicate using the emotional language that most people live in and through. By building rapport, and speaking to the emotional limbic system, a smart leader is able to better convince others that he or she is coming from a place of integrity and knowledge, and dispel any hesitancy or opposition.
A strong leader also understands what motivates others to want to help them in their cause, and strives to encourage others by building their confidence and bringing out their best qualities.
9. Managing Personal Resources
The brain is, like a muscle, capable of exerting a certain amount of work effort for a certain period of time. And just like any other muscle, it needs rest time to rebuild and restore itself.
Our emotional and energetic bodies are similarly wired. Too much output or stress on any of these systems for too long will result in ineffectiveness, exhaustion and eventually break down.
Those determined to master the art of leadership recognize that their personal resources – their energy, emotions and minds – are not limitless, and need to be recharged on a regular basis.
Good leaders take care of themselves physically, mentally and emotionally, and are careful not to overload themselves.
10. Always Seeing the Bigger Picture
A great leader always endeavors to think in terms of the bigger picture, keeping a bird’s eye view of the events and happenings of the day-to-day so as not to lose site of the larger goal.
This is a worthwhile thing to do, regardless of your position in life. The iNLP Center points out that viewing issues from a distance is clinically proven to be an effective problem-solving method.
They strive to maintain a sense of clarity at all times, practicing seeing through the fog of the temporary and ever-shifting, and keeping their sites steadied on the path ahead. In this way, a strong leader doesn’t get caught up in the panic or drama of the current challenges, missteps or obstacles, and is able to deal effectively and calmly with the unexpected without getting thrown off track.
While real leaders are not particularly common in our society, by studying other great leaders — those who lead by example, who inspire trust and loyalty through their integrity, who remain humble and open-minded, and who are able to make difficult decisions for the greater good — we can learn to strengthen our own leadership skills and become more effective in our roles as bosses, managers, teachers and visionaries.
More Resources About Leadership
- Master These 10 Management Skills to Become a Strong Leader
- Leadership vs Management: Is One Better Than the Other?
- 15 Best Leadership Books Every Leader Must Read To Achieve Success
- Why Leadership and Management Are Two Sides of a Coin
Featured photo credit: Ardiss Hutaff via unsplash.com
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