Being a leader is hard. Some people put themselves in a leadership role and others are there by accident or even default. It's unreasonable to expect that all leaders are naturally born. They need support and tools to be successful and bring others along.

My Inc. colleagues and I have seen lots of leaders in action. Some leaders are are just getting by, but others are amazing. We have witnessed several common tools these amazing leaders use to get performance from their teams. Here are some we have seen that work consistently.

1. Structured planning

The entrepreneurial community loves to extoll the rare leaders that are successful by accident. As one who observes patterns, I take heart from those who carefully plan the work and then work the plan. Variables and the unexpected are much easier to manage when the team is aligned and has a structure from which they can deviate as required. Save the haphazard approach for the stories. Bank on the ones who put thought and consistency into their efforts.

2. Ask for help.

I ask for help as often as I can. Don't be afraid to say, sincerely and humbly, "Can you help me?" I promise you'll get help, and who can't use a little help? In the process you'll show vulnerability, respect, and a willingness to listen . . . which, by the way, are all qualities of a great leader. Also, all qualities you want your employees to display, too. --Owner's Manual

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3. Listen.

Clearly it's the ability to listen -- really listen -- to your people. Too many leaders are full of themselves and think they have all the solutions, then wonder why their people aren't engaged and don't perform up to expectations. If you've hired great people (and hopefully you have), then listen to what they have to say. You just might learn something new -something that will give your company an edge. --The Leadership Guy

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4. Read voraciously.

Books, books, books. Not only do I love reading materials that support and enhance my leadership abilities, but I enjoy interviewing some of the authors for my columns and internet radio shows as well. I also listen to top-rated podcasts as often as I can. These books and podcasts aren't always directly related to the leadership topic, but anything that increases or validates emotional intelligence or inspires commitment and creativity can be thought provoking and valuable. --The Successful Soloist

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5. Meet regularly.

One common and unexpected tool that makes you stand out as a better leader is holding regular meetings with a predictable cadence. Regular meetings create structure, cohesion and a sense of community. They force accountability, not only for the individuals being assigned tasks or providing updates, but for the leader as well. Regular cross-department meetings encourage communication and learning about what others are doing. Well-run meetings are where strengths and weaknesses are identified faster and improved upon. Establishing a set of structured meetings is one of the first tools I implement when I start work with a company that is experiencing issues with stalled or inconsistent growth. --Lean Forward

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