What makes a good leader into a great leader?
Anyone can learn to be a good leader – and if you have the motivation and passion to constantly improve yourself, you might just end up as a great leader.
But what are the essential ingredients that make it possible? Ask 10 people and you’ll get 12 different answers, but there are some key traits that make the biggest difference.
And each of them can be learned ... once you know what they are.
For our money, here’s what someone needs to develop into a truly great leader:
1. A Genuine Interest in Other People
If you don’t care what’s going on with other people, you’ll never inspire them.
When you ask high-performing professionals in almost any field what’s shaped them the most, they’re often able to point to mentors who cultivated their talents. Each of these mentors invested time, effort, and attention in someone else.
Most leaders are deeply focused on seeing others around them thrive.
To help people reach their potential, you’ll need to understand what drives them to excel – and what dynamics and habits hold them back. Your willingness to help can kindle real loyalty in others.
Successful inbound marketers and inbound sales professionals have a great head start here. In order to develop content that truly speaks to others’ needs, you have to understand them well and be willing to meet them where they are. Learn to expand that perspective and you’re all set.
2. An Understanding of “Why”
As Simon Sinek said, leaders should start with “why.”
There are lots of benefits to leadership: Those often include prestige, money, and power.
And at most levels, there are also some serious drawbacks. For example, you might find yourself making difficult decisions about your priorities and how you spend your time. You may even need to make choices that could put others’ livelihoods (or lives!) at risk.
If you come into leadership without understanding why you do what you do, it’s all too easy to drift away from the essential focus on people. Burnout becomes a huge factor. And, of course, we all know what happens when people lead only for themselves.
What can you do to keep your good intentions producing good results?
Acclaimed TEDTalk speaker Sinek suggests that leaders – including would-be and developing ones – start with knowledge of their underlying motivation. This helps you capture your own passion and point others in the direction of sustainable, positive change.
Start With Why is a great book to put on your reading list when you want to drill deeper into what it really means to be a leader. It’ll provide you with energy and clarity necessary to take both the good and the bad of leadership and forge them into positives.
3. High Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is an absolute imperative in all leadership. Full stop.
Even leaders who might seem to be cavalier or abrasive have, at some level, an insight into the people around them that allows them to do what they do. But it isn’t mere “charisma,” which lots of people talk about as if it were magic. No, it’s something even better.
Something you (or anyone else!) can learn with enough effort.
Usually, that “something” is empathy, the ability to feel what others are feeling. Sometimes, it’s not quite so visceral: It might be perspective-taking, the ability to see things from another’s point of view and evaluate their goals, wants, needs, and concerns.
Both these skills come from emotional intelligence, being aware of and expressing emotions deftly.
Emotional intelligence allows you to take the feedback you get from others, unite it with data and facts, and communicate your vision in such a way that others can clearly see their place in it. When it comes to leadership, nothing is more important.
4. A Vision for How Things Can Be Better
Managers deal with day-to-day operations and short-term projects: How things are.
Leaders are responsible for looking at not only how things are, but how they could be.
People turn to their leaders not only when things are in need of fixing, but also when they need coherence, energy, and meaning in what they do. That meaning often comes from working together toward a goal that will make a real, enduring difference.
Being a great leader often begins with applying creativity to work: Not only to its immediate problems, but to things going “well enough” that could be better. When you connect with your own vision, you often find the spark of inspiration that starts you on the path to leadership.
While some people might seem like they’re born to lead, most of us have to learn the hard way. Cultivate these four strengths and you’ll find leadership opportunities opening up to you.