No one is born a leader. You learn how.
Leadership, simply understood, is just a particular set of skills. As such, these skills can be worked and improved upon. These skills are not limited by your age, gender, height or any other physical quality. Anyone can become a great leader. But it takes effort. As with anything that requires effort, the earlier you start, the better. If you are currently at university or school, then now is the perfect time to begin to learn, or even begin to perfect these skills
What skills does a great leader have?
The definition for what makes a great leader will change from person to person, for a simple reason: Those who look to others for guidance will often search for qualities they see or want in themselves.
However, we have tried our best to draw up a list of qualities that great leaders tend to have in common. Becoming a great leader is not something that will happen in a day. Along the way, you will begin to see what you personally value the most and these traits are those that you will dedicate yourself to. Think of this list, then, as a starting point.
Are you ready? Let’s begin.
A leader is someone who guides other people right? But how do you get followers? You cannot force them nor bribe them to come along. Those people are not leaders.
Great leaders set an example. In order to set an example, some activity has to be carried out (and here’s the great secret) is has to be done well.
What activity then? Well that’s the part that you will have to figure out yourself, I’m afraid. It’s a tricky one, I know, but deep down you will know which path is best for you and what you have to do to get there. Whether it be being a talented businessperson, an inspirational sportsperson or an adored artist, there is a route to take. The important thing is that you stick to it and do it as well as you can. This should be your primary focus when trying to be a great leader.
Hard work is infectious and people can see through lack of effort from a mile away. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut. You must simply do the thing you have decided upon every day, for as many hours as you can.
There is perhaps a feeling among people that you find commitment out of the blue, that you are born with it, that it will come to you. This is not the case. Hard work is hard for a reason. If it wasn’t hard then everyone would do it.
But if you are a student, take some solace in this: hard work is a habit. Habits are easier to start when you are young and will take more effect the sooner you do. Deep down, you already know what it is you need to do. So get to it.
OK, so you’re working hard on something and people are listening to what you have to say. But what if one of your followers is incapable of keeping up with said example? What if you put a foot wrong (which is inevitable, sorry to break it to you that way) and your team needs answers and assurances?
The ability to put your thoughts into words in a calm, easily understandable manner is a phenomenal tool, not just for leaders, but for anyone and everyone.
But speaking well isn’t the only key to good communication. You also need to listen well, take on board what the other person is saying and respond in a way that shows you have understood. Indeed, you have to give the impression that you are always open to questioning. That is how trust begins to form.
You should pay full attention to the other person, maintain good body language, be brief but specific and be confident in the points you are making. Good communication is a rich field, one in which books and books have been written. Perhaps pick up one or two from the library. They can be so useful both now and for the rest of your life.
Confidence is a consequence of hard work and commitment. Do not confuse confidence with arrogance. It is easy enough for most people to pretend to be confident, but true confidence is bred from hard work. Confidence is closely linked to commitment then. But they are not the same.
Confidence is a matter of perspective. If you look at yourself and see what is truly good about yourself, or you’re honest about the talents and skills you have, you will grow in confidence. Do not let anyone tell you that you do not have any skills or talent. Not even yourself. It is simply not true. You’re just not looking at yourself in the right way.
Once you’ve found your skill, work hard at it and before you know it your confidence will be inspiring hard work in others.
Be humble and try and be honest with yourself. Perhaps begin a journal and try and figure out what went right and wrong each day.
Being at university is a tumultuous time. Lots of new things to learn, new responsibilities, and often lots of pressure. These things can be damaging to confidence. As long as you remain patient, stick to the work you have and plans you make your confidence will grow.
Baby steps are still steps, don’t forget. Also try and fit in as much exercise whenever you can. It can really do so much for how you see yourself.
What happens when things go wrong? You make a mistake, or a member of your team does?
Being a leader isn’t always about feeling that you’re the best or that you’re the most successful. Sometimes it’s about taking the blame, shifting it away from your team, saying it’s all your fault. Even if it isn’t.
It’s about seeing what went wrong and accepting that at some point, you should have seen what was coming. Even if you couldn’t.
It’s about being strong when your team needs you to be, even if you don’t feel like it.
When things go wrong, your team needs someone to look up to, to guide them. That’s when they need leadership the most. Being accountable and responsible are vital and necessary traits of being a leader.
It’s about physical and emotional strength. It’s about having the knowledge to know that things will go right soon enough. It’s about maintaining belief in your work, in your values and knowing that things will change for the better soon enough.
Perhaps the best way to learn integrity is by following other great leaders. ‘No man is an island’ as they say. You will learn how to be a great leader by watching others do it. Read autobiographies of great men and women. Study what your heroes did during their tough times. Watch and read interviews with them. See what their advice is for when things get hard. And stay humble.
Well then where should I start?
As alluded to before, there are a million routes to take to being someone that commands respect and awe. You will find some that mean the most to you along the way, or perhaps you already have. These four things are great starting points or even reminders.
Becoming a great leader is a journey. It will not happen in a single day or even a few. It will happen as a consequence of focus and persistence. Which is why we will add one last word on a vital part of life: habit.
Allow these characteristics to become habits. We are a function of the things we do each day. Each choice we make, burger or salad, shower or bath, Coke or Pepsi, defines who we are. Changing habits is hard, but not impossible. If you want to change a habit you have to try and do a little every day, no matter how small that amount is. Over time, you will realise that those habits have become part of who you are, and that hopefully you have lost those habits you did not like about yourself.
And reward yourself for your efforts. Not too much though. Eating a whole cheesecake after a five-minute jog isn’t going to help anyone. But a piece of chocolate, or other small reward will help you associate, neurologically, your effort with a sense of doing well.
After time, you won’t need that reward. If you don’t work, you’ll miss the activity in itself. If you continue working that little bit every day, before you know it, you’ll be the person you always dreamed you could be. A leader and an inspiration to many.