Leaders are made, not born.
A study released by the University of Illinois states that leadership is 30% genetic and 70% a result of the lessons you have learned from life experience. That’s great news for all of us. Because although just some are born with natural leadership skills, becoming an effective leader is something we all can learn through an ongoing process of introspection, self-awareness, and being open and receptive to all feedback.
1. Find someone who has achieved great things and learn from them.
Good business leaders leverage the lessons learned by their predecessors to move companies forward. Billionaire businessman and entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg credits his successes to the counseling he received from the late William R. Salomon, a former managing partner at the investment bank Salomon Brothers, where Bloomberg started his trading career. On Salomon, Bloomberg said the following, “On most mornings, he’d be the first one in the office. He was a good listener, but he didn’t manage by consensus. He was his own man, he made his own decisions, and he didn’t look back.”
From Salomon Bloomberg learned how to lead by example and it clearly had an enormous impact as he went on to become the Mayor of New York City. As a leader, pay attention to those who have come before you. Learn what they did well but also learn from their failures. Seek out a mentor who you strive to imitate and study their practices. You never know what nuggets of wisdom may drop down to you.
2. Accept your personal characteristics for what they are.
When was the last time you practiced self-reflection? Self-reflection strengthens self-awareness and will enable you to make better decisions as a result. Developing personal insights lead to understanding your motivations, values, desires, and strengths. And when a leader has an accurate grasp of their self-awareness, they can begin to delegate other tasks to their employees to better achieve the common goal. Employees look for authenticity in their leaders, without it, it is difficult to gain their trust.
Consider some of the greatest leaders of all time: Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates. All of these compelling leaders used their values as a compass to guide their leadership decisions and actions without trying to be something they were not.
3. Identify team members’ specific talents.
One of the greatest basketball players of all time, Michael Jordan, is also heralded as one of the most effective leaders seen on the court. He led his team to 6 NBA championships, one of only 13 players to ever accomplish the feat. However, as talented of an individual player as Jordan was, he famously acknowledged, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” Jordan understood that he could not do it alone, so he utilized each of his teammates for their specific skill sets to operate as a complete team. And he made sure that his teammates understood their role and the impact it had when the team succeeded.
This aspect of leadership applies in business as well. An effective leader utilizes each team member and positions them in places where they will make the most impact with their specific skill set. As a leader, you need to identify each members’ talents during the hiring process to best know how they fit into your company or team.
4. Listen to learn.
With millions of messages bombarding us every single day, the ability to listen is becoming a lost art. How many times have you listened to an employee or peer share a data point and immediately compared the data to content you have read, heard, or experienced? This is called listening to affirm. Many leaders have unconsciously settled into this habit thinking it a gesture of support. However, when the ideas are not challenged a leader can sometimes miss important opportunities for innovation.
In contrast, other leaders play the role of devil’s advocate, positioning themselves as defensive listeners. They attempt to combat their employees’ messages as they believe this pushes the bounds of creativity. Instead, this method of listening can backfire and lead away from discovery by dead-ending a discussion. A truly great leader listens to learn and push ideas forward. Encourage your employees to dive further into their ideas and brainstorm variations that may take the team in a new, more innovative direction. Show your support by providing an open ear to new efficiencies and influence.
Leaders who hear the needs of employees create a respectful learning culture. In turn, your employees will feel empowered to innovate and seek your counsel instead of avoiding it.