Be a Sponge for Industry Knowledge, Seek Great Mentors, and Be Connected to Your Workers
The paradox of leadership is that, more often than not, the person in a crowded room who talks the loudest, dominates the conversation, insists that people follow his direction, and takes the credit for other people’s work will end up sinking to the bottom of the ocean rather than attaining the rank of captain of the ship. In fact, the best qualities of a leader can be summed up in a quote by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism: “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.” Leadership is humbling work, which requires showing up each day with an over-prepared, tireless commitment to quality values, the ability to coordinate and support others, and total honesty in pursuit of a larger goal.
While it goes without saying that not everyone is naturally cut out for leadership, many people do have the potential to get there. Here are six ways you can become a good leader:
Research and Learn New Things About your Industry
You’ll never be a leader in the industry you wish to dominate if you’re not 100% caught up with that industry. After all, credibility is something you have to prove — over and over — and trust is something to be earned. So leaders dive headfirst into trade news, keep up to date on the latest official verbiage and newest developments, obsessively check their feeds, all the while giving their employees what they need to succeed, and making sure they know all the technical details of the game.
Building this wealth of knowledge not only comes in handy later when people are looking to you for your expertise and advice, but all this information with which you are keeping current may be critical when you have to make quick decisions about your business while faced with all sorts of legal and financial constraints.
Find Good Role Models
Though some are born leaders, no one is born with a pristine, 100% effective leadership style. Those who are most successful in this day and age can probably trace their leadership influences to current and former mentors, former bosses, fictional or unapproachable figures they idolized growing up, or educators. This admiration of role models is usually a result of seeing the latters’ breadth of knowledge, expertise, communication style, and leadership philosophy.
So taking time to think about what makes your role models compelling, being able to pick their brains on how to handle tough situations, and learning from their good example, are all extremely helpful ways to inform your blossoming leadership choices. After all, not all leaders are the same, but it’s important to understand what motivates you about your heroes, and then to try to emulate those qualities when you’re in their position.
Two of the most essential qualities of any leader are the following: that (a) they are 100% committed to what they do — to the extent of, in the case of an entrepreneur, sometimes quitting their day job and giving up their salary just to work through the nights, travel to expensive out-of-the-way conferences, and proclaim the glories of their business idea to crowds of intimidating investors and engineers; and (b) they inspire others to do the same. Even the most seemingly misguided leaders (i.e. full-of-outlandish ideas) later got to where they were because of the strength of their conviction and the indefatigable, contagious, rebel passion they could maintain. With this kind of unflappable commitment, paired with a sense of strategy and willingness to learn or change course when necessary in favor of the long game, all different varieties of men and women can become truly effective leaders.
Think Critically, and Be Honest to your Team and to your Values
Effective leadership doesn’t just lie in pep talks, promises and praise. A sign of a good leader is the ability to think critically, and give feedback as truthfully as possible. In order to guide their ship to progress, a leader needs to be proactive, help fix what’s wrong, and be able to strive for a balance of perfection that exists outside of abstract ideals.
This doesn’t mean refraining from voicing your concerns on how your teammates’ progress is going, nor does it mean deliberately looking for something to criticize. What it does require is a good sense of judgment, a long-term strategy, and a positive attitude towards helpful change.
Interact with Different People Across the Board
CEO’s, coordinators, managers, founders, and all other leaders are typically the only people who have to piece together the big picture. Therefore, nothing in the business is considered as not being within their purview: communications, front-end and back-end developing, accounting, and any and all other aspects of running the business operations. For this reason, it’s a good idea to start interacting with all sorts of professionals – and in the process as this article notes, taking yourself from being a boss to a leader — even if you’re not at the helm of anything yet. Simply being able to casually pick up some new practical knowledge about how different industries work, understanding the working conditions of programmers, or finding out all the different tasks that marketers have to take on, can help leaders get a solid view of the different parts of the machine they’re learning to drive.
Connect When you Can
While not all leaders need to also be connectors, being able to help someone they trust land a job, or finding the right person for another company’s vacancy really displays a sense of good judgment, willingness to help others, and diversity in connections. Connectors are trusted by their network: they’re the ones who get called when someone drops in from out of town, they’re the first opinion in the industry, they pass on leads, they know a lot of people, and have a good command of business visions, plans and “hands-on” working applications.
While they don’t always have to be the captain of the ship, good and great leaders quietly support the business by helping others fulfill their own aims. In fact, working on the concept of building greatness in yourself for the sake of your business and its employees is, in itself, the quality of a good leader.10