If those questions had definitive answers, we wouldn’t spend so much time speculating what makes a leader truly great. The fact of the matter is that the qualities of a fantastic leader depend on the organization, the situation, and, most importantly, the leader herself.
Just because there’s no right answer for what makes a leader effective doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain qualities that lend themselves to valuable leadership. Whether it’s honesty or reliability, most great leaders should possess an uprightness and moral fiber that allows them to power through difficult situations.
But how do you build that muscle — and make it clear to others that you want to be the person you say you are?
Leadership Self-Sabotage Is Painfully Common
The easiest way to undermine your moral core as a leader is by betraying your stated values. People pay attention to what leaders say, as well as what they do. If your leadership message doesn’t align with your leadership itself, your value as a leader begins to plummet. When it comes to leadership, you’ve got no choice but to back up your words with action.
That being said, walking the talk is never as easy as it sounds. Cutting corners is sometimes the simplest option, or perhaps there’s a certain situation that makes compromising your values easy. If you’re hoping to keep your actions in line with your message, you need to be ready to weather difficult storms. Here’s how:
1. Write, and then write some more.
What’s your leadership message? Is it a list of core values or a guide of how to handle tough problems? Or maybe it’s a series of quotes to live by?
You can’t stick to your leadership message if you don’t know exactly what your leadership message is. While you might have a set of values or rules that are important to you, it’s impossible to constantly be aware of every quality you want to maintain. If you want to be a strong leader in reality, you should create a strong leader on paper first.
When I first started to write my book Top of Mind, I had a general understanding of what I felt made an effective and successful leader. I knew that to be successful, you had to be willing to do work for others in order to gain their trust and respect. In turn, I knew that trust and respect were two qualities that every leader needed to gain to accumulate followers. What I wasn’t sure of, however, was exactly how someone could make those values actionable.
It took me an entire book to turn my leadership message into something anyone can use, but it might take someone else a memo or even a single piece of paper. Writing your leadership message down turns your ideas into something tangible, and it gives you something to reference when times get tough or you’re uncertain about what to do. No one’s perfect — it always helps to have a guide to remind you of your best self.
2. Make others hold you accountable.
No one ever truly leads by herself. Leaders may guide teams, but leaders are also nothing without their teams. If you want to become the leader you aspire to be, get your team to help you.
Share your leadership message with your team; if you’ve written something down, let them see it. Let them know what you’re trying to achieve with your leadership message, and ask them to stay aware of it — and call you out if you slip up.
Not only will this hold you accountable for your actions, but it can also help in the development of your leadership style itself. If you’ve developed an entire philosophy of leadership without considering your team’s needs, you’ve wasted your time. No leadership style works in all situations, so you need to allow your team’s input to help shape the way you lead. Using the combined knowledge of your teammates to help develop your philosophy is leadership in action.
3. Set goals.
You can’t fully adopt every aspect of your leadership message overnight. It’s just like a New Year’s resolution — if you want to lose weight, it’s unrealistic to cut 1,000 calories from your daily diet and add an hour of exercise each day. Committing to too much right away is a recipe for failure. Implementing your philosophy into your daily life bit by bit is the best way to ensure your changes are lasting.
Break your leadership message down into its smallest (implementable) parts. Make a schedule for adopting each aspect of your message — go one by one, and don’t add a new quality until you’ve completely mastered the previous one. Working incrementally, you can avoid unmanageable changes in your life that might overwhelm you and induce burnout. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Julius Caesar — becoming a great leader takes time.
Having a strong leadership message will never be enough. If you’re hoping to really lead, you need to know how to turn that message into something tangible. It’s not easy, but it will always pay off.
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