leaders are made, not born. And this is good news for anyone that truly wants to improve their leadership skills. This is my own personal list that I’ve lived by my entire career.

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Do they work? Well, given the fact that I’d attribute all of my past successes to the teams I’ve led, I’d say so. But perhaps if we’re lucky a few of my old employees will stop by and let us know.
Now you’re going to see things on lists of leadership characteristics such as “have confidence”, “great communication skills”, “empathy” and other traits that can generally be stated to be desirable in all people regardless of if they are in leadership positions.

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However, I want to cut to the chase and focus on the ones that are most applicable specifically to people in leadership roles. You take care of these, and the business will take care of it’s self.

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  1. Make decisions that are sometimes unpopular. You’re in charge. You’re going to have access to information other people aren’t privy to. Sometimes you have to act on that even if you think it’s going to be less than popular. That’s life. Suck it up and do what you know has to be done.
  2. Lead from the front. My rule number 1: never ask your people to do something you won’t do yourself! A leader has to be willing to roll up the sleeves and get your hands dirty with the troops. Otherwise you’re just a boss.
  3. Teach and Mentor. There is no way you can earn respect if you don’t share some wisdom and information with your team. Make it your goal to teach people everything you know. And make sure you are always pushing yourself to learn more.
  4. Empower people. I promise you this… if you make everyone run every decision past you, you will be a massive failure. Give people a little room to make decisions, and let them earn more responsibility over time.
  5. Hold people accountable. Accountability goes hand in hand with all of these other traits. If you are going to be good to your people, train them, mentor them, lead by example, and establish a vision, you must hold them accountable for their performance. That is part of being a team player.
  6. Develop an inclusive vision. People will only follow a vision that is good for the company if they think it’s also good for them. So any good strategy includes everyone in the vision.
  7. Demonstrate honesty and integrity. Don’t ever lie. Make it an edict and live with it. If you can’t tell the truth for a good reason then abstain. But don’t ever lie. Oh, and if you make a promise – live up to it.
  8. Have conviction. Do you believe in your product, service, plan, strategy, etc.? If you are not absolute convinced, don’t expect anyone else to be. Instead, work to refine the vision until the argument is absolutely convinced. Conviction is merely a demonstration of the amount of faith a person has.
  9. Be flexible. There are times when it’s appropriate to demonstrate conviction, such as on matters of principle. But 90% of the time it’s important to keep an open mind and watch for opportunities to do things better, faster, or cheaper.
  10. Motivate and Inspire. Remember, a great way to motivate and inspire people is to blend realism with optimism. It’s important to demonstrate that you have an accurate assessment of the situation, and that despite that you are optimistic for the future. Optimism is contagious.

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As a final thought, remember that people follow answers. You can be a nice guy who tells everyone all about the situation they are in, but unless you discover, inspire or demonstrate how to change things you have not really earned the title of leader – even if you are a manager.

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