You don't have to be in charge to be a leader.
If you are a parent, sibling, member of a team, or if you manage people in any capacity (including customers), you have the opportunity to be leader. In fact, most organizations have an informal leadership system, a person or small group of people who create the organizational culture. Ironically, these people are often not the CEOs, owners or managers of their organizations. Leadership is ultimately about any one human being's ability to influence others. We all have that power; we just need to learn how to harness it.
Here are four key qualities that most effective leaders share. As you read through them, think about which ones you possess (naturally or through a concerted effort), and which ones you would like to develop further.
1. Communicate your vision. As the adage goes, "If you can't perceive it, you can't achieve it." Good leaders have clear goals in mind, and they have the ability to communicate that goal with enthusiasm to everyone around them. The recent bestselling book "Leadership Challenge" highlights vision as the pinnacle of effective leadership. A vision inspires, creates unity and meaning and brings people together to work towards a common goal.
A great place to start visioning is with your own life. Most of us never really think about being the architects of our future. But why not? We can either make our lives happen or let them happen. Take a minute to visualize your life the way you want it to look. Write it down. Think about it in as much detail as you can. If you do that consistently (about your life or your work) you may find that things start to change in surprising ways.
2. Listen actively. Rated the No. 1 skill of great leaders, there is truly no better way of understanding people and gaining their support than listening with your head and heart. I've mentioned in past articles that effective managers don't wait for people to come to them with ideas or problems. They solicit that information on an ongoing basis. When people don't feel like they matter, they have no incentive. So seek them out, and prove that you want to listen.
3. Demonstrate faith in people. Several years ago the Israeli army tried an experiment with two groups of soldiers. They randomly placed soldiers into elite and average units. The commanding officers told the soldiers they had been selected for their group based on their abilities and gave both groups very different goals and expectations. What was the result? The elite group outperformed their peers by leaps and bounds. In truth they did not have any more or less talent than the average group, but they were made to feel like they did.
There are two lessons packed into this story: People will achieve what you expect of them, so raise the bar, and communicate your confidence in people's abilities.
4. Be decisive. There is no such thing as a leader who is easily swayed or who waffles over decisions. It's better to make a bad decision than no decision at all. Indecisive people send out the message that they lack confidence in themselves, making it impossible for people to have faith in them. Good leaders make decisions on limited information, on their intuition and sometimes on a whim. But they make them, and they move forward no matter the consequences.
These four ingredients are present in many leaders, but there is no single style of leadership that has proven most effective. In the words of the Latin poet Antonio Machado, "Wanderer, there is no path. The road is made by walking."
The point of leadership is to be actively engaged in the process of self-improvement, to find your own way and to use your lessons to help others.
Eliza Levy conducts seminars on conflict resolution and anger management. For more information, contact her at 305-296-5437 or visit http://www.elisalevy.com.