In business and in life, there are leaders and there are followers. But all too often, those in leadership positions fail the people they’re meant to lead. Anyone can be placed in a position of authority, but how do you become a leader that people want to follow?
Becoming this kind of leader requires more than solid management techniques. It requires three things:
- A commitment to personal growth
- A willingness to learn
- A transparent relationship with those you lead
So what does it truly take to become a strong, capable leader? We’ve put together a list of 13 traits that will do more than help you lead effectively – they’ll make you a leader that people truly want to follow.
A great leader knows that they cannot succeed without help from the people around them. The most prosperous teams are the ones who collaborate, and that requires a willingness to listen and learn.
Humility doesn’t mean that you can’t take credit for your work, but it does mean acknowledging that others will have different skills and knowledge from which you can benefit.
Everyone wants to feel valued and heard and admitting that you may not have all the answers fosters an environment ripe for collaboration and innovation. You can’t hammer a nail with a screwdriver, and you can’t drive a screw with a hammer. Acknowledging the unique strengths of your team will empower them to become contributors. People want to follow leaders who know their limitations and utilize the strengths within their team.
We all crave consistency, and turmoil can quickly disrupt the efficiency of even the most productive teams. What’s more, people want to know exactly what the expectations are without worrying that the standards and goals will change from day to day.
An effective leader sets the tone for the entire team. When you establish consistency, those in your charge will know exactly what is expected at all times. This is also a key skill for fostering productive colleagues. When you are reliable and consistent, you provide an environment that breeds productivity instead of confusion. This is especially important when it comes to discipline and direction.
Great leaders throughout history have shared a common trait: charisma. And charisma stems from a clear vision. A leader who has clearly established goals and the vision will naturally draw those around them toward the same end. It’s not enough to simply manage your team; you must have a clear goal that everyone is working together to achieve.
Real progress requires metrics that plot a course for success. Without these metrics (benchmarks, milestones, rocks, etc) your team can become disorganized, which dramatically hinders production. Most importantly, having a clear vision will attract people and talent who share that same vision.
A good leader takes responsibility for not only their own actions, but the success of their whole team. Nothing kills morale and pushes people away faster than a leader who cannot take responsibility for their team.
Leadership may come with extra acknowledgement for success, but it also requires accepting responsibility for failure. As a leader, the prosperity of your team is ultimately your responsibility. Any failures, no matter who made them, ultimately fall on you. People are willing to follow a leader who takes credit for success only if that leader also takes responsibility for failure.
Remember that any failure by your team is a reflection of your leadership. Blaming your team when things go wrong is a quick way to lose the support of your subordinates.
Respect is a two-way street, and you have to give it to get it. Demonstrating respect for your team promotes loyalty and investment in the mission. Without respect, it will be impossible to develop a successful team.
When you treat your team as expendable or unimportant, you create a dynamic in which it’s “us vs them”. Respecting your staff shows that you see them as equals, despite your role as a leader. This allows the team to work as a cohesive unit, in which every person is just as important as the next.
Communication is key! This means clearly laying out goals and expectations as well as listening to the needs of your team. If you can’t learn to communicate effectively, you will be unable to lead, and your team will not be productive. When your team knows what you need and you know what they need, productivity and happiness will skyrocket.
One of the worst things that can happen to any group is for the members to feel that they are unheard by their leader. Not knowing what your leader wants is just as bad. Take time to receive feedback from those under your leadership. Ask questions like:
- “How can I help?”
- “What do you think we can do better?”
- “Do you feel that you have clarity regarding the team vision and your role in accomplishing it?”
Hand in hand with vision is passion. Enthusiasm and company culture start from the top, and a leader who lacks passion cannot effectively motivate those around them. Attitudes are contagious, and when you are passionate about your goals, it is abundantly clear to your entire team.
Passion also helps in recruiting the right people for your team. It’s important that everyone, no matter their role, is excited and passionate about your team mission. To build and develop a prosperous team, you need to be the ultimate cheerleader.
People who are passionate about their work are significantly more productive, and that passion will spread to every aspect of your organization.
#8. Mutual Accountability
It’s important for you, as a leader, to hold yourself accountable for your actions, responsibilities, and results. It’s equally important that your team is held accountable for theirs. Once you’ve established expectations, be sure to hold everyone on your team accountable.
You cannot lead if you don’t set an example. Whatever responsibilities and commitments you make, it is imperative that you hold yourself accountable to the same standards as your team. When you make a promise, keep it. Period. When you hold yourself to a high standard, you are able to effectively hold your followers to the same standard.
#9. Celebration of Success
When your team does something well, meets goals, or overcomes an obstacle, celebrate it! Everyone wants to be recognized for their work, and if their efforts are not acknowledged or rewarded, they will seek a new leader to meet their needs.
Rewarding your team for excellence lets them know that they are valued. Compensating success encourages increased productivity and increases satisfaction. When you celebrate victories, however small, you tell your team that their work matters and is appreciated.
Perhaps the most important quality in a strong leader is dependability. No one will follow a leader who is unreliable. Dependability is a bit different than consistency, but the two are closely related.
Dependability means that you can be trusted. That your team can count on you to come through for them no matter what.
A leader must set an example for their followers. If your team can’t depend on you to fulfill your obligations, they will be left feeling unsupported and unheard. More importantly, a leader can’t hold their team to a higher standard than themselves. It’s a double-standard, and your team will see that following through is not a priority.
As a leader, you are the person everyone looks to for guidance and support. It’s your job to look out for your team, and if you can’t be counted on to fulfill your obligations, your group will look for a new leader that can be counted on.
#11. Personal Growth
Perfection is not attainable. It is a goal that keeps us moving forward and promotes growth and improvement. In the Marines, there is an evaluation process for promotion. Military personnel are rated on a scale from 0-5, but 5s are literally never awarded. That’s because the U.S. Marine Corps believes that there is always room for improvement.
Ernest Hemingway said,
There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
When you stop pursuing personal growth, you essentially believe that you are flawless, and could never be any better than you are at that moment. People will not follow a leader who believes they are flawless.
Commitment to personal growth will not only pay dividends in all aspects of your life, it will set an example for your team. When you engage in the pursuit of bettering yourself, you become a leader that is not elite or superior to others, but one who leads the way in the pursuit of improvement.
We’ve talked about humility, communication, and growth, but knowledge is still an integral part of leadership. No matter what you do, you must have the tools to do it with excellence. People will follow a leader who demonstrates thorough knowledge in their chosen arena.
This does not mean that you should project an air of superiority, but you should be an expert who is well-versed in whatever field you lead. People instinctively follow the person who possesses the most relevant knowledge. If you aren’t a master of your craft, you cannot expect others to follow your leadership.
#13. Learning from Failure
No matter who you are or what you do, you will, at one time or another, experience failure. But failure does not mean that you are a poor leader. Instead, it is the way that you respond in the face of failure that determines your ability to lead.
Every failure, every mistake is an opportunity to learn and improve. A bad leader shifts blame and makes excuses for failure. They become discouraged and defeated when they are unable to overcome a challenge.
A strong leader embraces failure as an opportunity to grow. And people will notice. By acknowledging your faults and admitting your mistakes, you provide yourself the opportunity to become stronger. Resilience is important, and people will always follow a leader who is strong in the face of defeat.