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6 Things Really Powerful Leaders Do

Not everyone is ready or willing to lead. Here are six things you'll need to master to move masses, inspired by Seth Godin's latest talk.
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According to Seth Godin and his new book The Icarus Deception (Portfolio), more than 100 years of industrialization have led to institutionalism, and the glorification of being a follower. Living in the safety net of what has already been proven allows for a modicum of success, if any, and a whole lot of mediocrity. Most importantly, the impact you'll leave on those around you by doing only what is expected is sure to be minimal. As Seth asked from the stage Wednesday, "Will anyone really miss you when you're gone?"

No need to reiterate exactly what else Seth says in his new book. Buy it yourself. But I will share the inspiration I took away, and how it's already driving my own actions as a leader. Use these tips to masterfully lead your tribe and as Seth encourages: "Ship your art."

1. Build on Your Own Authenticity

You know when you are in your zone, and when you are just playing the game to get ahead. Everyone does what they need to do to make the machine work. But powerful leaders are authentic. That doesn't necessarily mean they are well liked. They are however comfortable in their own skin, and they create an environment around them that supports their worldview. This way they can thrive and create with little resistance. Own who you are and wear it proudly.

2. Clearly Define YOUR Following

Today's technology and Internet connectivity more than ever provide opportunity to attract followers and lead. Accept, however, that not everyone is your follower.  Determine the attributes of those who will gain from what you can teach, share, and sell. Don't assume that just because you're a boss, you're a leader, or that being an entry level employee makes you a worthless cog in the machine. Your followers exist around every corner. Broadcast your vision. Attract them with your inspiration. Ignore everyone else. Truly, there just isn't enough time and energy to make everyone a convert. The most powerful leaders focus on where they are going and trust that the right people will follow. Make your voice heard so they'll find you.

3. Break Away From What You Know

No one has it all figured out. Even Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison had to experiment to discover the truths of science and invention. But today knowledge is easily accessible. Experience brings comfort but that comfort can become a prison or worse, a death chamber as the world changes around you. Today's world is moving fast and you need to constantly explore. Learn broadly so you can assess where the opportunities and dangerous hazards lie ahead. Respect every day as Seth's concept of a blank slate, applying what you know and re-exploring the status quo. Then you can create new art that is moving and valuable.

4. Make Yourself Vulnerable

Failure is painful, embarrassing, hard, frustrating, and at times, devastating. Yet without it growth and massive success is all but impossible. Limits will never be truly tested without the risk of breakage and destruction. On a smaller scale, learning new things is filled with constant, disheartening failure. I remember four weeks of Spanish immersion as an adult. I spent five hours a day being wrong and feeling stupid. Yet the breakthroughs were exhilarating and beneficial. Just a simple mind expansion opened doors beyond my expectations. The CTOs who never really explore marketing or the CEOs who never learn to write will forever limit themselves and leave room for their competitors to blaze new trails. You don't need to be an expert in everything, but the broader your exposure, the more language you have to connect. Learn the things you need to learn, meet the people you need to meet. Stretch, risk, grow, and revel in the risks and rewards ahead.

5. Be Generous to Your Tribe

What's the point in having a following if you are not going to lead them anywhere?  Followers sign on because they believe you can enlighten and enhance their existence. Share what you are learning and what you produce. Don't worry that it's not perfect. Include them in the process. Let them engage and share in the experience. Give them the gratitude, recognition, and encouragement to step up and lead in synergy with your vision.

6. Allow Time to Work Its Magic

So many people race against the clock as if time is their enemy. But people who lead use time as a powerful tool for change. People need time to absorb new ideas and determine a course of action. Following a leader helps but credibility comes with time and consistency before followers will amass. Lasting impact comes not from a single incident but from a steady consistent march forward. Embrace the blessings that come with patience.

People choose to lead for different reasons. Some can't help themselves and others find it the only way to maintain their material needs. Whatever your motivation, leadership brings great responsibility. It's hard. It's intricate. It's risky. It's certainly not always pleasant. But the highs from the successes well outweigh the lows from the failures. I for one will continue to risk and ship my art. Thank you Seth for the added inspiration.

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Last updated: Jan 4, 2013

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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