There are many articles and methods for being a great leader, and here we seek to explore the best theories of inspiring leadership qualities. To understand how to become a great leader, we first need to understand what leadership actually means.
In reality there is a lot more to leadership than simply the definition, and depending on your motivation it is worth exploring this in-depth. Like all forms of personal development, there is an element of understanding your ‘self’ and your role. Find the best technique that works for you.
In one of the most famous quotes on leadership, Vince Lombardi states that leaders are made, not born. This viewpoint is shared by many people all over the world who recognize that effort and determination are the keys to good leadership. This effort begins from the moment you understand that your role as a leader is multi-dimensional. This requires your dedicated attention to all aspects.
Understanding your ‘self’ as a leader
Whether your leadership role is within an international corporate company, a local health center, a school, a political party or within any defined ‘group’, your first step is understanding yourself in relation to that group.
A person’s personality is fundamental to the outcome of any situation. Where the situation places you in the role as a leader, your personality is worth taking time to understand.
The classic example of leadership styles is the carrot versus stick approach. Do you want to explain the threats and use this to motivate (stick), or would you prefer to focus on a shared goal (carrot) that rewards?
Carrot and stick
Your answer to this question can never be right or wrong. At different times and in different situations you may need either approach. The real answer to this question is both, however at this stage we can start to understand and explore these methods in more depth.
Both carrot and stick are psychological approaches to leadership, and the resulting choices are based not only on your personality, but on your history as well. The interplay between your historical experiences and reactions form the very basis of your personality. Also, consequently the basis of your leadership style.
A recent article published by Forbes Magazine defined the essential qualities of great leadership, and integrity, loyalty and competence are cited as prime examples. All of the skills I have mentioned are skills that can be learned along the way, if you are prepared to invest in cultivating them.
Understanding how you work is central to leading and inspiring others. Learning about yourself is vital. Research is an essential part of this process, particularly seeking out qualities in others that resonate with your own personality.
Cultivating leadership skills
Once you have understood your role and leadership goals, it is worth exploring the other aspects that make a good leader. There are numerous studies, methods, research papers, articles and inspirational people exploring the field of leadership and consequently, the resources available to us now are in abundance.
There is no one size fits all approach to leadership. Indeed Jobs, one of the largest job search sites in the UK posted an article covering the 10 common leadership styles including coach, visionary, autocratic, and transformational. Each of these styles is worthy in its own right, and a good leader will draw from all examples and apply them to situations appropriately.
Explore all of the methods and techniques available. Draw your own unique experiences. Cultivate a leadership style that is responsive and intuitive.
If you are going to become a leader that people will look to, then having the basics in place will give you the grounding you need to carry out your leadership tasks effectively. A piece on leadership in Psychology Today says;
“Every leader develops a unique style, informed both by specific personality traits and general cultural tone.”
Leadership is the very definition of looking at the whole and understanding it in order to achieve the desired end goal. Once you define the end goal, then it is up to you to design an experience for all involved that accomplishes it.
Originally developed as an approach to group therapy, an eco-systemic approach to leadership takes into account every detail and every facet of the situation and applies it to the whole to achieve an end goal that serves everyone.
To understand how to apply this, you need to envision your end goal and then take in to account all of the following:
This is the circle of things that directly affect the individuals involved including their home, work, religion, health, family and financial situation
This is how these situations relate to each other, both on an individual basis and as part of a group and in relation to the goal
This is all of the outside influences that may impact on people involved, your goal, and possible threats including unexpected occurrences
This involves the culture surrounding your project or goal, including global influences and how your goal fits in with the world
This involves the transitions and patterns that develop over time taking into account new developments and the whole timescales
If you chart this right from the planning stages, then this will give you a deeper understanding of your role as a leader within the group. Leaving no stone unturned, and by gathering information and allowing for individual and external influences, you exude the calm and controlled demeanor of a great leader.
Honesty and authenticity
Part of being a leader is having a vision of what you want to achieve. If you want to bring that vision into reality, then it needs to be honest and authentic.
People will to a point, believe what they are being told as long as that then translates into reality. If there is a significant difference between what people believe they are working for, and what they are actually working for, then this will soon come back to haunt you.
As mentioned in the Forbes article above, nearly one-third of company employees in the US do not trust their employers. You can find the same situation in political situations across the globe. If you are consistently dishonest with people, then you will lose their trust.
Too many times to mention, leaders have put their own interests before that of the group. People are inherently forgiving, but forgiveness wears thin and dissipates over time if it is the only consistent approach.
The great leaders over history, the ones who have inspired and who are still spoken about today understood this one absolute fact, without the group there is no leader. If you don’t have anyone to lead, if people won’t follow you, then you are de facto, not a leader.
Part of being an authentic leader is letting go of fear and being completely honest with yourself and others. Some of the greatest leaders of our time will tell their stories of success alongside the mistakes they made along the way. Rather than people turning away from you as some might be led to believe, honesty has the opposite effect.
People fundamentally know that the perfect human doesn’t exist, and they know that people make errors in judgment. If you can own your mistakes, then they are no longer mistakes, they are points of learning that can be referred to in future situations. This also allows a narrative to develop to your leadership story that people can believe in.
To conclude, as we have explored above, there is no cohesive list or set of instructions to make you a good leader, but there are aspects to take into account. By asking yourself the following questions and by exploring your own attributes in relation to the goal, your essence as a great leader will start to shine through.
- What does leadership mean to you?
- What kind of leader am I?
- How are you going to achieve it?
- What do you want to achieve?
- What is the benefit to the group?
By taking a truly ecosystemic approach to leadership, and by being your most honest and authentic self, you cannot help to inspire others. Good leadership starts when you take all the strings and pull them together to create something new.
Own your history and what led you to this point and remember, even Zeus who sought to correct the shocking leadership choices of the Titans had bad days. Leadership isn’t always simple, but you can make it easier by fully owning and knowing every aspect possible.
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