Career Talk

Being a Leader

September 2003

Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive because your words become your behaviors.
Keep your behaviors positive because your behaviors become your habits.
Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.
 - Mahatma Gandhi

What is the difference between a manager and a leader? Both managers and leaders must motivate teams of people to do their jobs. Both must clearly communicate goals. But leaders also set goals and inspire people to believe in that personal vision. This requires instilling a sense of confidence, respect, loyalty and willingness to cooperate among the people with whom you work.

Leadership is a skill that can be learned. Good leaders are not necessarily good people and have differing styles. But they tend to share certain characteristics. The most effective leaders lead by example. They attract followers through their drive, energy and determination. The best leaders balance the need for achievement with a concern for the well-being of their subordinates. Their ability to make others feel valued inspires trust and loyalty.

  1. Know what you want by knowing who you are
    How does one create a vision? Most leaders develop their goals based on their values. How can you inspire someone to follow you? First, you must believe in where you are leading them. Your Beliefs: What are your convictions? What do you hold true about people and life? Your Values: What are your attitudes about what people, concepts or things are worth? What is important to you for a good life? These are important because they help prioritize your goals. Your Traits: What are your characteristics? Don't underestimate yourself or your abilities. Still, when people list traits of a good boss, they include: good listener, supportive, even-tempered, conflict resolver, good communicator, fair, team player, honest, patient, demanding, sense of humor.
  2. Be creative
    Think outside the box. Past experience and logic can be very useful in trouble-shooting problems by enabling us to avoid past mistakes. But caution can also be stifling. Don't be trapped by "this is how we've always done it." Consider new ideas or different approaches by asking "what if?" and "why not?"
  3. Optimism
    Leaders have a "can-do" attitude that motivates people to do what it takes to achieve their vision. They have a positive, reality-based approach that considers what is feasible and can be done. Leaders help others see how they will benefit from doing a job.
  4. Take risks
    It is the job of the leader to ensure that decisions are made in a timely manner. In a group setting, the leader provides the overview, sets the agenda and keeps discussions on-track. Ultimately, do not make decisions based upon what is easiest or most expedient but what you think is best.
  5. Value your time
    Time is your most precious commodity. Prioritize your work, don't get stuck doing short-term, "urgent" matters that do nothing to advance your overall goals. Know what to delegate and find good people whom you can train to perform these tasks. One of the best investments you can make is in your key people. Empower these people to take initiative. Be sure to close your door sometimes. An open door leaves you vulnerable to your people coming in with all their concerns, big and small. You become the bottleneck in the decision-making process. To avoid continual crisis management, you need time to focus on the big picture and to think about potential problems and how to prevent them.
  6. Be flexible
    Do not confuse determination with inflexibility. Know when to move on. Know what you can change and know what you cannot.
  7. Admit mistakes
    We all make mistakes. Be honest and don't obsess. People know you're human. No one expects you to be perfect. If you try and hide it, they will grow suspicious and not trust your judgment. If they suspect that you are hiding something, then they will also keep (potentially valuable) information from you.
  8. Be fair-minded
    Team-building requires a sense of commitment. Otherwise, players will abandon the organization as soon as the next (higher-paying) offer comes along. Be visible and listen!! Make your employees feel important by acknowledging their input and contributions. Praise publicly and criticize privately. People want to feel valued and will reward you with their hard work and loyalty.