None of us are born an ideal leader. Many of us are natural leaders, and most of us work to hone the characteristics of a true leader. But evolving from a natural leader to a true leader takes time, experience, and an acceptance that leadership is not about controlling others but empowering them.
So, whether it’s the teams you are assigned, or the tribes that organically surround you, here are the eight skills you need to master to become a true leader:
Communication is not only clearly articulating your vision and the “why” which fuels it but communicating this in a manner that brings your team to believe in it as well. Only when people invest themselves in your vision, do they invest in your “why” and actually work harder to achieve this vision.
Highlighting how each team member’s individual contributions support the collective efforts energizes the individual and cultivate a long-term commitment to the work. But communication goes beyond verbal encouragement to include listening and providing constructive feedback.
When listening, look to understand not only what the speaker says, but what they mean. This requires watching the speaker’s body language, identifying facial expressions and noting changes in tone. Listening is not a skill that uses ears alone but demands empathy, compassion, and a willingness to ask the necessary clarification questions.
Only when appropriate should you offer constructive feedback. Productive feedback is given as a gift that supports the recipient’s success, rather than criticism to cut them down. And, like all great gifts, feedback should be delivered in person, not via text or email, to provide space for conversation beyond an initial reaction.
Two and Three: Honesty and Integrity
As a true leader, integrity should always be centered in everything you do. Where honesty is upholding truth when confronted, integrity is upholding this same truth, even when others might not find out. As such, you can be an honest leader without integrity, but can never have integrity without being honest.
For example, both an honest leader and a leader with integrity contribute good news as the entire team’s efforts and bad news as a failure to communicate expectations. However, an honest leader tends to deliver news, especially when bad, after a member of their team addresses it. But a leader with integrity proactively shares this same news before asked because they believe their team deserves to know.
Accountability is taking responsibility for your actions and leading by example. For yourself, accountability is being transparent about your commitments and following through on your engagements. You must own any mistakes you make and see them as an opportunity to learn, grow, and teach others with.
In regards to your team, you must hold each team member accountable to the same standards, encouraging them to take responsibility for both their successes and their mistakes. However, as a true leader, accountability also means answering to everything said and done within your sphere, even if you were not immediately involved.
When things go wrong, true leaders do not seek to assign blame on an individual but strive to identify the cause so similar mistakes can be avoided in the future. In these failures, it is crucial that you praise the success of your team members, even when the praise is limited to a timely reporting of the issues.
Five: Build Relationships
Relationships are organically built through open communication, vulnerability, and understanding. This does not mean you need to share everything with your team, but be open to sharing some portion of your personal information and respecting what your team shares with you.
In a group setting, acknowledge everyone in the room, regardless of who you arrived intending to speak with. You should not be stuck in a hierarchy mentality and selectively interact with peers or higher. Instead, true leaders actively express genuine interest in every one in their sphere from the janitor to the CEO.
Six: Commitment to Others
Commitment is not your presence when your team needs you. For a true leader, commitment means driving the successes of those around you and removing obstacles whenever possible. By dedicating yourself to your people, you encourage them to take risks and build innovations.
At times, you will have to make difficult decisions. You won’t always earn that “favorite boss” mug. There will be opportunities that you pass up to support your team, and you will work well over 40-hours to meet a deadline. Regardless of the demands, as a true leader, you must embrace the responsibilities and sacrifices that will drive your team’s success.
And although you may feel this way, you do not need to, nor should you, solve everything yourself. When obstacles arise, you must rely on the information provided, and implement your team’s ideas, even when these solutions differ from your own. This encourages collaboration and boosts overall team morale.
Seven: Inspire Others
Perhaps the most prominent quality of any leader: you are naturally inspiring. However, true leaders not only inspire but instill optimism in their desired outcome and motivate action. This inspiration isn’t empty but provides followers a sense of belonging. Sharing your confidence in your team provides the opportunity to learn from those you lead.
Moreover, as a true leader, your inspiration is not limited to words but derived from your actions. By actively propelling your team’s efforts, you build their self-worth, demonstrating to them that they are as important as you. Throughout this, clearly, articulate your expectations to your team; the people in your sphere will actively work to exceed these expectations because they feel valued. Only true leaders genuinely evoke this type of inspiration, which proves invaluable as your organization moves forward.
Eight: Empower Others
Empower others by delegating opportunities that utilize your team’s strengths. By providing an opportunity for individuals to grow, you encourage your individuals to excel, cultivate deeper relationships, and allow your organization to thrive.
True leaders do not undermine their team in the process because delegating opportunities is to impart autonomy on the individual. As a true leader, understand that you don’t need to supervise every little effort. Instead, you must prove that you believe at the deepest level in your team. Trust that they will make the right decisions and take the necessary actions, recognizing that any mistakes made are fixable and empower further opportunities.
A true leader understands that it is not the title that allows you to compel others, but the ongoing development of these eight skills that inspire people to follow you. While everyone has some leadership traits, every natural leader must continuously work to evolve into a true leader.