The word "leadership" evokes an image of great men and women--people who, in a moment of crisis, always rise to the occasion with the right response, the right decision, the right direction.
Unfortunately, that image is based on the misconception that leaders always know what to do. That's often far from the truth; most of the time leaders don't know what they're doing any more than the rest of us do. That's why every leader needs a kit of solutions that work against the most common challenges life throws at us.
Here are some practical and effective strategies that work for the challenges we face.
1. Develop your personal leadership style.
No one is born knowing how to be an effective leader. Spend time learning as much about yourself as possible. When you work on yourself, you're working on your leadership. Consider finding a good leadership program, coach, or mentor.
2. Learn from experience.
Think strategically about how you can gain the experience you need. Delve into challenging projects that may give you unusual problems to solve; practice observing situations from different perspectives and learn from everything you do.
3. Don't be afraid to fail.
Unless you're not trying at all, you will almost certainly fail, maybe more than once. The important thing is to learn how to take responsibility for your failures, extract their lessons, and change directions while still moving forward.
4. Have a compelling vision.
When a crisis hits--and it will--having a vision and knowing that people are aligned with that vision keep things in check. If you are trusted as a leader, you'll be perceived as someone who can bring people through and keep things on track instead of falling apart.
5. Polish your people skills.
Great leaders have great interpersonal skills. They care for their people. As a leader, you need to know how to listen quietly and hear what people are really saying, by asking questions and being open to the truth. When challenges come, it's especially important to open up and show you care.
6. Motivate yourself.
Your commitment is a model for others. If people can see that you are working hard toward attaining a goal, they will join you. Learn to tap into the motivation that gives you energy and passion, so in turn you can inspire others through difficult times.
7. Keep people informed.
When times get tough, it's always tempting to hide, but that's the worst thing you can do. Stay visible and keep people informed even when it's bad news. People don't like to feel excluded from progress or from problems; when you keep them current, they will be invested and prepared to help.
8. Inspire others.
Inspiration is empowering; when you inspire people, you also give them a sense of purpose. When you lead by example and people feel inspired by who you are, it empowers them to be more effective and productive.
9. Find a true mentor.
When times are challenging, find someone who has been there before, learned his or her lessons, and is willing to guide you along the way. A good mentor should have the experience you want to gain, and should also have a sincere desire to the help you along the way. Mentoring has to be genuine and positive to be truly meaningful.
10. Take care of yourself.
The best leaders take care of others, especially in challenging times. But if you neglect yourself you will soon be overwhelmed by pressure. Do what you need to do to keep yourself sharp and healthy, and remind yourself often that what you do is valuable.
No matter what the current economic, political, and social realities are, the challenge for leaders today is to define themselves, to identify a vision and set goals, and to acquire the leadership skills to handle a wide range of everyday challenges.