Leadership is not a destination. Leadership is a lifelong journey that requires the daily decision to not only be a leader but to be a better leader. You can take moments to sit back and appreciate accomplished milestones, but the truth is, if you spend more than moments, your influence as a leader begins to fade. Fearless leaders challenge themselves to be better leaders every single day.
Leading doesn’t only happen in the boardroom. It happens in every aspect of our lives. Parents, how can you be better leaders for your children? Teachers, how can you be better leaders for your students? Captains of softball, bowling, and soccer teams, how can you be better leaders for your teammates?
Don’t have a “leadership” title at the office? That doesn’t mean you aren’t leading. If people seek your input and advice, if they look to you for direction, then you are leading.
Leadership is defined in many ways. Here’s my definition:
Leadership is the willingness to accept responsibility to organize a group of people to achieve a common goal.
Let’s break down the key components of that definition:
Willingness is having the desire to do something of your own free will.
Accept is having a favorable opinion or to take something upon yourself.
Responsibility is having to do something because of a prior agreement or to be worthy of another’s trust to get something done.
Organize is putting things, tasks, or people into a particular arrangement.
Group is a number of people or things considered as a unit.
People are folks, society, community, masses, populace, family, or the public.
Achieve is to obtain a goal through effort, to carry through to completion.
Common is belonging or relating to the whole.
Goal is something one hopes or intends to accomplish.
The willingness to accept responsibility to organize a group of people to achieve a common goal requires a wide range of skills and traits that must be continually developed. Those skills and traits range from the ability to communicate effectively and cultivate positive relationships and cultures, to the courage to take risks and learn from failures. Today, I’ll share four key attributes of leadership that I encourage you to focus on improving to become a better leader today.
Set Clear Goals For Yourself And For Those You Lead
How do your goals stack up? Are they providing you:
- long-term vision to help guide you and those you lead towards a common purpose?
- short-term accomplishments to keep you and those you lead motivated and inspired?
- focus to reach your potential and encourage others to reach theirs?
- ability to best organize time and resources?
- measurable progress and accountability to keep you and your team on track?
- confidence to set new, bigger goals individually and collectively?
If you answered no to any of the above, you have work to do. Why aren’t your goals providing you x, y, or z? Reassess your goals to make sure they are relevant to your vision, clear to you and your team, challenging and achievable, and time-based and measurable.
Communicate With A Focus On Active Listening
Communication is all encompassing: it’s how we speak, write, listen, and interact. But I want to zero in on attentive listening, because it’s an incredibly valuable leadership skill and one most of us don’t use consistently.
At its core, active listening is listening without judgment and with a desire to first understand and then to be understood. Here are tips on how to actively listen.
- Put all distractions (yes, even your cell phone) aside and make eye contact.
- Ask about what the other person cares about, remember their responses, and follow up. This may be one of the biggest challenges. Even if we have managed to listen attentively, once the conversation is over, we immediately move on to what’s next. I challenge you to take a moment after the conversation to write down key information and set a reminder to follow up.
- Make yourself vulnerable: ask the other person if they felt like you heard them and be prepared to accept their honest response.
Coach People Up
Coaching up is not telling people what to do; it’s empowering people to develop a skill, increase their responsibility, and build their confidence. Time is often the biggest obstacle to coaching up—wouldn’t it just be easier to tell them how to do it or just do it yourself? In the short-term, maybe. But remember, leadership is a long game; a life-long journey that you don’t go alone. Coaching up is an opportunity to not only build a competent, reliable team but also the next generation of leaders. Who are you coaching up?
Fearless leaders are always learning and improving. The opportunities to do so are limitless. Actively listening to your team members will teach you new ways to get things done. If you don’t already have a mentor, find one who’s right for you. I attribute much of my leadership growth to the time, efforts, and wisdom offered to me by my mentors. Attend conferences and seminars. Take courses. One thing we offer every single employee at Merchants Fleet is the opportunity to take LearniQ courses for free. I take advantage of this program every year and have taken courses on innovation from Columbia, digital marketing from U Penn, fostering diversity from Yale, and neuroscience from MIT. Every course has inspired me with a new, big idea for Merchants. As leaders, it is our job not just to encourage others to grow but to exemplify a growth mindset through our intentions and actions.
How are you growing?