Not everyone is cut out to be a leader.
Some entrepreneurs, CEOs, and even middle managers confuse leadership with the title next to their name. They think just because they're "in charge," people will rally behind them, listen to them, and heed their every command. But the truth is, it's very easy to become a "leader" in terms of acquiring responsibilities. What's far more difficult is becoming a credible, trusted leader who is loved by everyone.
So, what makes a terrific leader?
1. Walking the walk
The best kinds of leaders lead by example. The worst kinds of leaders live by the phrase, "Do as I say, not as I do."
This is especially true for leaders who feel they don't need to become truly knowledgable about the organization they are leading. For example, some executives or managers don't prioritize becoming experts of the industry they're in, and instead lean on their title as a way to avoid digging into the hard work. This behavior then leads to a poorly balanced team dynamic, and people begin to see the leader as lazy and hierarchical.
2. Earning your stripes--not showing them off.
Leadership is something you have to earn, day in and day out.
Your title is not something you flaunt. In fact, the moment you have to lean on your title in order to get people to listen, you've started down a difficult path. People respect leaders that show up and continue to prove they are worth following--not leaders who expect everyone else around them to work harder than they're willing to work themselves.
3. Being open, honest, and trustworthy.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a leader is breaking someone's trust.
Especially if you're at the helm of an organization, you're going to run into scenarios where people will come to you to share how they're feeling, or issues they're experiencing within the company. It's your job to treat those conversations carefully, make the person feel heard but respect the fact they came to you and you alone. Don't go sharing that individual's issues with one of their peers in the company. That's a fast track to breaking trust you've built in the past.
4. Doing what you say you're going to do.
If you say you're going to give everyone a raise, then you better give everyone a raise (or, very honestly, explain why you weren't able to deliver on this promise).
I have a few stories about this in my book, All In. One of the big mistakes young leaders make is painting these wildly imaginative futures for their employees, never once considering what will happen when, two years later, all those employees want to know why none of it came to fruition.
The best thing you can do when leading a team, a department, or an organization is stay true to your word. So, if you think there's a chance you won't be able to deliver on the promises you're making, don't make them in the first place.
5. Aim for the moon, and be clear about how you're going to get there.
Nobody likes following a leader whose mission is to do things "pretty well."
As a leader, you have to ride the careful line of setting realistic goals for yourself and your company, while simultaneously choosing goals worth getting excited about. Contrary to popular belief, employees really do want to work hard and be part of building something special.
Don't be afraid to share the grand vision.
6. Learn to control your emotions.
To protect the culture of your company, you have to master the art of remaining calm during periods of high stress.
When you react emotionally--to an individual, to a conflict, or to a massive threat to your business--you are showing the people around you that it's alright for them to react emotionally as well. This is not the kind of team dynamic you want to encourage.
Instead, try to see these moments as opportunities to exemplify patience, understanding, focus. While everyone else is feeling stressed, show them another way of dealing with problems.
7. Be decisive.
One of the worst qualities a leader could possess is a habit of indecisiveness.
It's a pattern that's easy to fall into: you say the words, "Let me think about it," and then before the day has even ended, you've suddenly got 10 different things you've decided to postpone and "think about." But deep in your gut, you almost always know what decision needs to be made. There's no reason to postpone it.
8. Educate yourself--constantly.
Some people become leaders because they are brilliant, talented, and have a knack for constantly educating themselves.
And then they stop.
They reach a point of authority, they hit a plateau, and they decide they know everything there is to know--and become complacent as a result. Trust me, you don't want to become the sort of leader that suddenly realizes you've fallen behind the growth curve.
In order to stay at the forefront, you have to keep educating yourself.