Sixth president of the U.S., John Quincy Adams, was asked to share his thoughts on leadership. What makes someone a leader, his audience wanted to know.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more,” he answered, “to learn more and become more, you are a leader.”
These words might just have easily been spoken by a 21st century statesman, as they arguably hold as true today as they did more than 200 years ago.
But what do they have to do with you?
Well, irrespective of whether you are starting out on the first rung in your profession, changing direction or stepping up into more senior responsibility, there are certain core leadership competencies that will help distinguish you, and empower you to drive your career forward.
First off, though, you might want to refresh your understanding of the term “leadership,” and how it relates to you.
What Makes Someone a Leader?
There are plenty of misconceptions flying around about what a leader is or does. So let’s start by debunking a few leadership myths.
Google offers a pretty concise definition of “leader” as: “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.”
OK, but… a leader is no longer understood by today’s more enlightened organizations or businesses as simply the person who gives orders to others.
We have evolved a much more nuanced understanding of what makes someone a leader – and a good leader, at that.
The concept of the “boss,” or person sitting at the head of a chain of command, is increasingly giving way to a “softer” or more buoyant idea of leadership; that those who lead do so because they “float” on top – that the people they lead believe that they deserve their position.
This ties to the idea that leadership is something that is earned, not imposed.
So what makes someone a good leader then?
There is plenty of discussion around the traits that constitute leadership. But it appears that a number of key attributes seem to sit around the core of what makes someone better at leading than others.
Leadership Attitudes: Transparency, Communication, Commitment
Ask yourself if you have ever had a line manager or an employer who made you feel like giving more. Have you ever worked for someone who made you feel empowered to find answers for yourself? Or whose leadership inspired you to grow as a professional or as a person?
Leading can be understood as the process of inspiring and empowering others around a shared goal or outcome.
The best leaders do this by prioritizing key qualities – or attitudes – that other people can relate to.
Core among these are honesty and transparency.
Now, being honest does not, obviously, equate to being nice. When something goes wrong, it’s down to the leader to say what he or she really thinks or means.
Transparency is also about openly sharing vision, values, and beliefs. As a leader, your team or company or organization’s culture is a reflection of your own ethical plane, so it is down to you to set the bar as high as possible.
Good leaders are also good communicators. If your goal is to align others around a shared sense of purpose, then you need to good at communicating what that purpose is. Conversations with others needs to be built into your approach - and that means listening too, and demonstrating your capacity to hear what others want and need.
Commitment to your role, to your objectives, and to your business is absolutely crucial. The very best leaders are those that lead by example. If you are rolling up your sleeves and hitting the trenches with everyone else, you are demonstrating your commitment to the project and instilling a shared feeling of hard-working energy across your organization.
Learning to Lead
So far so good, but if you are just starting out on your career or moving into a new role without direct reports, you might well wonder what the relevance is to you.
Well, leadership as a mind-set can accelerate your career whether you are in a position of “power” or traditional authority, or not.
Let’s re-cap: Leading is about inspiring or influencing others. And there is plenty you can do in your day-to-day to positively influence others and prepare yourself for future leadership roles.
Think again about someone who has inspired you. It could be public figure or a statesman. Think about what it is that inspires you and try to identify two or three attitudes or behaviors that you can emulate in the workplace.
Just as important is getting out of your comfort zone. Build your confidence and your leadership competencies by tackling challenges head on. Remember, others look to leaders in times of uncertainty or volatility. Pushing yourself to meet those things that make you uncomfortable will build resources and skills that will stand you in excellent stead as your career progresses.
And never stop learning.
We are living in times of unprecedented change. It is more important now than at any time in history to stay on top of your field, your expertise and your environment. Keep your knowledge up to speed and others will look to as an authority figure for advice and resources.
Understanding from the start of your career to take responsibility. To meet your goals with integrity and transparency. To show your commitment to your role. To see every failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. All of this will lead you to grow into an even better, well-rounded leader as each year passes.
NetAcad Advantage Reading Note: Building your career skills is a step forward in having a successful professional career. Learn more about the essential career skills that employers have told us they are searching for in new hires.