There is no prescription or secret formula for being a good leader. I know you’ve read articles such as “Seven Ways To Lead Successfully,” or Ten Things Every Good Leader Should Do,” and so on… But the truth is that a concrete methodology or a specific set of skills, abilities and character traits that make up a great leader just doesn’t exist. There is no secret sauce…
Stop Chasing Ghosts
You want to be a good leader—no scratch that–you want to be an exceptional leader. To do this, you must first disassociate yourself with all of your preconceived notions concerning leadership and empty your repertoire of the canned and contrite leadership advice you’ve heard along the way.
Leadership is situational. What works in one situation or with one team would be disastrous in another context. Understanding and truly embracing this fundamental truth is the first step toward becoming a great leader. You cannot imitate a great leader and then become one. Every situation, organization, team and individual has a unique set of circumstances, nuances and factors. Consider this, a person can be a strong and exceptional leader in one aspect and completely inept in another. Some of the best and brightest corporate CEO’s struggle as parents. A pastor of a large congregation may flop as an entrepreneur. Leadership is situational and dependent on a plethora of factors.
Great leaders are not reproducible. Think about all of the great leaders throughout history: George Washington, Ben Franklin, Marin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Jesus, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, Barack Obama and the list goes on… All of these people have one thing in common—they were originals who have not–and never–will be duplicated. And even if we brought them back to life, gave them a new company or re-elected them into office, their leadership style would be different and their success as leaders is not guaranteed.
What a good leader is
The definition of leadership is the power to influence. That’s it. It is not outcome focused. It has nothing to do with one’s ability to strategize. It is not dependent upon charisma, drive, or intellect. Leadership is dependent on your ability to impact people in a way that makes them want to follow you or are in some way influenced by you.
John Maxwell, bestselling author, speaker and leadership guru put it this way:
“True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that cannot be mandated. It must be earned. The only thing a title can buy is a little time-either to increase your level of influence with others or to undermine it.”
James R. Bailey, author and contributor to the Harvard Business Review echoes Maxwell’s sentiments about leadership. He describes a leader as one who excites, energizes, and stimulates. He sees a great leader as one who can galvanize the masses. A truly great leader is able to spark collective action and stir passion within people. Think about the leaders I listed above… They influenced entire generations and nations of people.
Leadership is dependent on how others see, feel about and respond to you. It is not what you can accomplish or bullying others into submitting to your will. You can be the greatest strategist on earth with an IQ of 160 but if no one willingly follows you and helps champion your cause—you are not a good leader. Conversely, you can have the intellect of a peanut, and be a poor planner yet if you can connect with and inspire people enough to take on your cause, not only are you a great leader, you will also accomplish more than a mere intellectual.
If you are following along and doing some deductive reasoning, you’ve probably realized that great leaders are good with and passionate about people—not just results.
What a great leader is not
Now that we’ve established that a great leader has to be adept in dealing with people meaning they must be: empathetic, compassionate, approachable, trustworthy, articulate, good listeners, effective communicators, experts in conflict resolution, understanding of the strengths and weakness of each team member and of the team as a whole, etc., you have a clearer picture of what traits you need for your situation. But before you dive in and transform yourself, let’s discuss what a great leader is not. A great leader is not:
Master manipulators are not, I repeat, are not good leaders. The difference between manipulation and influence lies in the intent of the leader and the will of the follower. If the person you are leading is following you under false pretenses or you’ve coerced them into following you, they are not truly being influenced. They are being tricked. A person who positively influences people is attractive because their cause, methods and approach resonate with their followers. People genuinely want to be a part of the leader’s vision and efforts. The key word here is genuine. The leader’s motives must be pure and the team’s allegiance must come from a place of honesty and free-will.
People submit to bullies out of fear. A bully may get what he or she wants for a while but one thing they will never experience is true loyalty from their followers. A great leader doesn’t use intimidation, threats and strong-armed tactics to lead. Pride, selfishness and arrogance are embedded in the heart of a bully and these three traits are exactly what undermines effective leadership. Case in point–Donald Trump… enough said.
A manager or boss
Most people don’t consider their boss, supervisor or direct superior a great leader. Bosses are in no way inspiring or influential. Don’t get me wrong, your boss or supervisor could be a great leader, however, most often, that is not the case.
A “boss” is task oriented. A good boss is a master at maintaining the status quo, keeping the boat a float and the passengers alive. He or she guides processes, is strategic and manages the work environment. A great leader impacts and changes the environment, charts a new course and ignites passion and excitement in his or her crew.
A boss is selected based on his or her ability to get a job done, meet deadlines and keep the staff or team from killing each other. Bosses are not problem-solvers in the truest sense of the word. They manage and handle problems. Great leaders—because of their ability to connect with others, can get to the heart of an issue and completely resolve it. Bosses are not bad people, but they are not great leaders.
Transcending good and becoming great
So far we’ve created a well-rounded view of what a great leader looks like. We all know them when we see them but how do we, as leaders move from being good to great?
Remember there is no method, prototype or recipe for becoming a great leader. It is highly situational. You must have the ability to assess the situation, your team and yourself to determine what it will take for you to truly impact the hearts and excite passion in your team members. Some team members may not believe in the mission or the outcome but they will believe in you. Below are three core traits all great leaders have in common:
Intuition is knowledge that comes from internal instincts rather than conscious reasoning. It’s that “gut feeling.” An intuitive leader is experienced, observant and very astute at reading people. Unfortunately, intuition cannot be taught, it can, however, be developed and sharpened through time and experience. Here’s an interesting fact about intuition: scientist believe that your instincts are accurate between 70% and 90% of the time. The answers are already inside of you.
Intuitive leaders have discovered how to access and listen to that still small voice that tells them something is wrong, this is the opportunity of a lifetime and to see potential in people where it isn’t obvious. And an amazing thing begins to happen once you begin listening to and following your instincts—that little voice grows louder, becomes more powerful and even more accurate.
This is another trait that can’t be taught. Integrity levels grow and shrink based on how you operate when integrity is needed. Integrity, at its most basic level, is what you do when no one is watching. When you can get away with something without being caught. A good leader operates with integrity most of the time. He or she is able to count the cost and determine when they can bend the rules.
A great leader operates with integrity ALL of the time. The hallmark of a great leader is his or her ability to stay true to their mission, vision and core values and they demand and hold others accountable for maintaining the same standards.
Insight encompasses and transcends being a visionary. Insight requires you to see beyond… It is the ability to see into the core of people, situations and circumstances. It is both long-term focused and short-sighted. Insight is kin to intuition and drives our instincts. You can’t influence what you can’t truly see. Insight comes from wisdom and wisdom is born through experience and learning how to think. The best way to develop insight is through mentorship. Pick the brains of successful people. Ask questions—incessantly. Bounce your ideas off those who are older, wiser, more experienced–and more importantly– more successful than you are.
The Secret Sauce
At the beginning of the article, I told you there is no secret sauce to becoming a great leader but that isn’t quite accurate. There is a secret sauce—it’s YOU. YOU are the primary ingredient that determines how successful you are as a leader and how well your team works to realize the mission. Leadership is your ability to influence. YOU are the common denominator, the equalizer and the “it factor” that determines if you are a good or great leader. YOU are the secret sauce.