Why can a small number of individuals gain the confidence and loyalty of others – while most people can’t? Because this question is so important to the running of organizations, business researchers for years have been trying to identify traits common among recognized leaders. If you want to join that exalted group, here are some recommended attitudes and behaviors:
- Think big. In academic papers on leadership, researchers often review to this characteristic as “vision.” In plain language, it means you need to look beyond every day ups and downs and focus on the long-range picture. Many games, after all, are won in the final quarter or inning.
- Develop resilience. Psychology Today, a popular magazine, recently ran a series of articles identifying this trait as the number-one determinant of success. Compared to those who wallow in self-pity following the inevitable disappointments of life, resilient people are able to pick themselves up from failure, dust themselves off with aplomb, and continue on to reach their aspirations.
- Stay visible. In times of stress, many entrepreneurs and executives give in to the human tendency to hunker down and hide. As a leader, you need to fight this tendency with every last ounce of your being. Think New York Major Rudy Giuliani in the hours, days, and weeks following Sept. 11, 2001. The man was ever-present on the streets of New York at a time when lesser mortals might have jumped on the next bus to Miami.
- Look the part. Bill Gates, billionaire owner of Microsoft outside Seattle, is well-known for an ultra-casual business wardrobe. But when he appears in a conservative climate such as the New York Stock Exchange, even Gates dresses in a traditional suit and tie.
- Expect resistance. One of the biggest mistakes made by poor leaders is expecting everyone to immediately jump onboard with a new idea. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Almost universally, men and women have negative initial reactions to change, no matter how small. The wise souls among us know that most people will turn around in a positive direction if exposed to a key leadership trait. It’s called perseverance. As a leader, you have to keep the parade going even though nay-sayers rain on you heavily as you step out of the gate. Instead of throwing in the towel too soon, invest in a good umbrella.
- Delegate with ease. As an intelligent and accomplished person, you may think you are the only human being on earth who can do a certain task as well as you. And you may be right. But refusing to let other people take on important jobs -- freeing you to work at even higher levels -- will doom you to failure.
- Communicate. And do it often. According to studies, leaders make a practice of sending the same message to their troops five and six different ways. If you’re in charge of an annual charitable campaign at your organization, for instance, don’t depend on a single e-mail to raise funds. To drum up generosity, also hold a kickoff, develop a slogan, send letters, gather testimonials, arrange field trips, hang posters, stage contests, and buttonhole potential donors face to face.
- Solicit ideas from everyone. Unsuccessful leaders often fail because they value ideas only from the top. True visionaries keep their antennae up for the opinions of everyone, including taxi drivers, maintenance staff, and assembly line workers. Bottom up is a pivotal leadership value.
- Get support. It is lonely at the top, no doubt about it. If you had a lot of company in the executive suite, you wouldn’t be a true leader. Make sure you create a trustworthy team both inside and outside your organization willing to empathize with your worries and fears. We all have them.
- Laugh enthusiastically and often. Long gone are the days when leaders were expected to project a certain dourness to reflect the seriousness of business. Today’s most successful men and women feel free to point out and joke about their own foibles. Only life and death, after all, are life and death.
By: Dr. Kathleen Begley