Let me ask you a simple question, and I want you to answer honestly: do you believe you’re a leader, or a follower?
I think we’d all like to think we’re leaders, but there’s a lot that goes into being one. It’s not enough to bark orders and get others to complete projects; that’s what a boss does. What makes a leader different is that they’re a servant and passionately supporting their group to be the best that they can be.
When talking about what it means to lead, I always think of Wim Hof as a fun example. If you don’t know, Hof set a number of world records and has pushed the limits of what we considered possible for the human body to handle. Before him, nobody thought it was possible to withstand being submerged in ice for nearly an hour, summit Mt. Everest in only shorts or change your body’s immune response simply by breathing.
What made Hof a leader was that he pushed the boundaries on what was possible for the human body to endure. There wasn’t anyone to follow, so he became it himself. This is what a leader must endure every day: showing himself/herself the way. Anyone can tell someone what to do, but being a model and showing them their responsibilities leaves a much stronger impression. It’s the difference between talking the talk and walking the walk.
“What you need is a challenge that pushes you. And creating that challenge is the act of goal-setting.”
For every person, being a leader takes a different form. And that’s okay, because each group requires a leader that works with that group’s overarching dynamics. But I believe there are eight traits that all effective leaders share, which differentiates them from the rest.
1. They passionately serve
We’ve all had bosses at least once in our lives who constantly reminded us that we didn’t measure up. And if you’re anything like me, you’d smile and play along, but the whole time you’d be thinking, “I’d like to see you do any better” or “ if that’s what you really wanted, why didn’t you tell me?” And that’s just the thing: we think that bosses are leaders, but they’re not! A boss tells people what to do, while a leader exemplifies it. Think about it: wouldn’t you be more inclined to do something for someone who taught you how to do that task? Maybe someone who does it right beside you? Exemplifying your competence to others not only gives them more faith in you, it also allows them to see that you’re just like them: hardworking, passionate and you care about them.
2. They understand calculated risk
Risk-taking isn’t all about betting the company. What I mean is weighing the options and recognizing when it’s worthwhile to go all in, i.e. calculated. Whether it’s saying yes to a once-in-a-lifetime deal, or pulling an all nighter to finish a project for a strict deadline. As a leader, it’s important to remember that any risk you take will affect those following you as well. That’s why it’s crucial to weigh every factor before making a decision. While taking too much risk is definitely not a good thing, taking too few of them will never get you anywhere. It’s up to you to make decisions and take action on things that others are too nervous to lead themselves. If you take action and earn the trust of your followers, they will certainly follow.
3. They have Maverick integrity
By Maverick, I mean being an independent-minded person and thinking “outside of the box.” At the same time, being a leader requires you to still recognize that there are people relying on you, so you still need to set an example for others to follow. If you’re too busy following your own principles to ignore anybody else’s, you’ll be seen as difficult to work with, and you’ll lose the team that follows you. That’s why I always make sure to offer QCC’s (questions, comments, and concerns) to the people working with me. If there’s something I’m not doing or if there’s something I can do to help them help me, that’s all the better. I want everyone I work with to know that they can depend on me. And to do that, it’s important to prove my dependability and relatability at every chance I get.
4. They are target focused
A good leader serves as a mentor. A good mentor is someone who does one of two things (preferably, both): they teach you how to dream, or they teach you how to reach that dream. Not many people would be happy being stuck in a dead-end job that they hate with no hopes of promotion. So why would anyone want to feel limited in their group? An effective leader points ahead and tells those who follow where we are going and how to get there. What’s more, they offer the tools to allow their followers to create and pursue their own ambitions. At some point, we all question what we’re doing. A good leader lets us know where we are going, how to get there, and helps push and pull us along the way.
5. They provide a strong “why”
We already see the importance of goal-setting in leadership from the last point. To stay fixated on those goals, we need drive. To maintain drive, we need a strong why (why are we doing this?). As a leader, you don’t want anyone to lose sight of their goals, aka why, nor to abandon the team. By remaining loyal to your team and their needs (remember those QCC’s I mentioned before?), you’ll create a solid foundation from which everyone feels they can keep going, even when the going gets tough. That kind of atmosphere is critical to getting anything done. A leader needs to empower their team when they feel weak and provide direction when they feel lost.
“By remaining loyal to your team and their needs, you’ll create a solid foundation from which everyone feels they can keep going, even when the going gets tough.”
6. They have unwavering courage
A special trait which makes a leader is that they have responsibilities unique to them. Some of these responsibilities, admittedly, will be less than pleasant, things nobody else wants to do. Be the last one out of the office late at night and lock it up, talk to an employee that makes the others feel uneasy. A boss would delegate these duties onto someone else, a leader will look them in the face. Not just because it’s the leaders duty, but because such responsibilities are an opportunity to set an example. By showing initiative and handling the difficult with courage and grace, it teaches everyone in your group the importance of their duties, even the ones that initially feel unrewarding and uncomfortable.
7. They are confident and humble
It’s not enough to be courageous, but also for your team to know that you have their best interests in mind. It’s easy to develop an ego when people follow you, but what’s really admirable is having the self-confidence to not be constantly reassured of your power. We can all agree that being cocky or arrogant is not attractive. It’s the type of person who constantly brings up how “I’ve done this.” Regardless of whether their claims are true, we oftentimes don’t want anything to do with these people because those statements scream a desperate need for reassurance, aka insecurity. And since people are looking to you for guidance, the last thing they need is someone who’s constantly seeking praise because they lack the self-confidence to provide it for themselves.
8. They are always influential
People need motivation to tackle a challenge. When the challenge is something that doesn’t directly incentivize that person, it’s up to the leader to give them a little push. Whether it’s a reward that they can look forward to after a job well-done, or an opportunity to pursue their own unique ambitions, an incentive uniquely catered to the person is a great way to give them the nudge they need. Not only that, but by reminding people in your group about how they’re benefitting your entire community — that is, what they contribute via their unique abilities and talents — it reminds them that they belong and that they too are a leader. Plus, most people appreciate compliments!
“By reminding people in your group about how they’re benefitting your entire community, it reminds them that they belong and that they too are a leader.”
When putting together what it takes to be a leader, the most important theme to remember is taking action. And while that might be easy to do once in a while, doing so efficiently and effectively takes consistent effort and dedication. That’s why we at PSYFI are so passionate about worksheets. When used like a planner, they really help in monitoring your daily tasks and goals and recognizing ways that you can do more in your day, or even do less (like they always say, “less is more”). I highly implore you to check out some of our worksheets. If you’re interested in being a leader of strong character, what I recommend the most is the “Know Your Values” worksheet. With this, you can track your most important values and explore why they are so important to you. This is best used to explore ways that you can portray such traits in your daily life and enable them to be a core staple of whatever team you lead.
At the end of the day, whether you’re a leader or a follower, you play an important role. Every part of the team is an important piece to bringing about success. Leaders often start out as followers as they gain the experience and skills from those above them. At the same time, when the opportunity arises to take initiative or be heard, learning the traits of effective leadership will always be important. Everyone excels at something, so when it’s your turn to speak, think of who you really want to be and let that voice be the one that everyone hears.