What Makes A Leader?

what makes a leader?

Many people believe that either you’re a natural leader or you’re not. I disagree. I think that great leaders are lurking within every single one of us and it’s up to us to find ways to tap into those leadership qualities.

Finding ways to exert your leadership capabilities can be a rewarding journey for everyone to embrace, from administrative assistant to solopreneur, manager to CEO. Sometimes all it requires is a shift in mindset: finding the ways that you can positively impact your work environment and going for it. Changing your reactions from frustration at work, to an opportunities to initiate change.

What Does Good Leadership Look Like?

Leadership is about so much more than strategy, operations and marketing. It’s about discovering and understanding each team member’s potential (as well as your own) and finding ways to tap into that resource, something many managers neglect to do.

From presidents to generals to sports coaches, the best leaders are often the ones who look outside their own field of endeavor to discover how true, universally successful leaders think. For example, take John Quincy Adams who said:

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

Or Lao Tzu who suggested:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.

I also believe that the best leaders “lead” by bringing out the leadership qualities in others around them. True leadership often appears as the ability to bring out the strengths in those around you.

Few employees would argue about the merits of such leadership styles-with the emphasis on encouraging and channeling subordinates’ intelligence and passion into the job. But for employers, those styles could also yield positive results. The 2007-2008 Towers-Perrin Global Workforce Study found that if managers recognized employees’ untapped energy and ambition and then channeled it, they would increase employee engagement, defined as an employee’s willingness to go the extra mile.

And that engagement is golden. The study found that companies with the highest percentage of engaged workers also had the highest increased operating income and earnings per share. So by inspiring your staff, you’re potentially boosting the bottom line.

Side Note: If you want to see a great short video about the power of engaged and motivated employees – check out Daniel Pink’s RSA animate video. It’s both an entertaining and education 12 minutes on what great leaders need to know to empower their teams!

How Can You Inspire Leadership?

If you’re an employee, how do you step into a leadership role? If you’re a leader, how do you encourage staff to step up?

Here are some suggestions:

Trust. Leaders need to create it and employees need to, well, trust. If your words and actions are just lip service, employees will know and steer clear. Avoiding flavor-of-the-month buzz words and take the time to get to know your co-workers. Genuine interest can go a long way towards building real relationships.

Understanding. Employee empowerment is not an event, it’s a philosophy with specific strategies that allow staff to make decisions that directly affect their job. Employers need to be in it for the long term and employees need to consider how their decisions may affect the company.

Clear boundaries. When the leader is away, what decisions can staff make? Remember, assigning responsibility without authority can be a leadership killer. Make sure everyone knows who is leading whom. If you’re an employee, make sure you get clear direction before assuming responsibility.

Encouragement. Second guessing the decisions of staff that have been given the authority to make those decisions undermines the entire process. Will mistakes be made? Of course. But shoot down an employee and see if anyone ever steps up with a critical idea or decision that takes the company’s success to the next level.

Similarly, leaders can find ways to turn employees loose on an important initiative and trust their creativity and resourcefulness. And employees – find ways to claim ownership to move an important project forward and give it your best.

Research demonstrates that empowered employees are motivated ones. But we don’t have to look farther than our local non-profits or religious communities to see that people who are passionate about something, will spend countless unpaid hours to get results. It’s up to you leaders to find projects that inspire your employees to grow with the company. And it’s up to you employees, to search out the projects that you are passionate about and volunteer to rise to the challenges offered in tackling it.

It’s a win-win situation. Left uninterrupted, this cycle repeats, encouraging passionate and skilled people to step up and make decisions about how to best serve customers or clients, which ultimately benefits the bottom line.

Comment below and let me know what you think makes a great leader. . .

And if you’re looking to develop your own leadership abilities, sign up on the right to receive my free leadership report on the essential skills you need to master to become a more effective leader.

Modified (c) Claire Communication

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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