In my many years of experience in large businesses as well as startups, a key lesson I have learned is that personal leadership is most often the differentiator between success and mediocrity or failure.
Although I don't have any magic formula for you to get there, I do espouse a set of actions for every aspiring leader that were summarized well in a new book, The Power of One More, by Ed Mylett. He speaks from his own many years as an entrepreneur, executive coach, and keynote speaker.
I have paraphrased here, with my own insights, his key recommendations to get started:
1. Be an evangelist for your dreams and enroll others.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the definitions of an "evangelist" is someone who talks about something with great enthusiasm. To be a business leader, you have to transfer your infectious energy to others so that you can get them to follow you and change the world.
2. Listen and identify the gifts of the team around you.
It's impossible to be the leader you want to be unless you understand the circumstances and the team members you lead. You must be intentional and pay attention to even the smallest details. Think of it as an investment, rather than an obligation. Capitalize on the unique talents of every individual.
3. Make developing new leaders your top priority.
In my experience, I find that some people in leadership roles are intimidated by developing team leaders around them. They may prefer to keep the power in their own hands, without realizing that they could lighten their own load with new team leaders, create loyalty, and make the team stronger.
4. Believe in, care about, and show people how to live better.
True leaders don't try to teach leadership -- they just look for opportunities to help team members take advantage of their own strengths and insights. The result is more confidence, more engagement, and new leadership that comes naturally. Look for every opportunity to make a difference.
5. Be willing to repeat yourself over and over again.
As a company executive, I found myself suffering from "leadership fatigue," getting tired of hearing myself say the same things repeatedly. Yet I eventually learned that leadership is not always about saying new and exciting things to everyone, but also about repeating key things until all are really heard.
6. Constantly look for ways to recognize people.
All great business organizations are internally competitive, and thrive on recognition. The best leaders always find a way to be encouraging, and are quick to praise publicly as well as privately. You need to be creative in your recognition, making it not only about money but also about their personal needs.
7. Vocalize a higher purpose, cause, and mission.
Remember that a good mission always has two components -- what are we working for, and what we are against. These days, if the first component can be associated with a higher purpose, such as saving the environment or helping the underprivileged, your reach and engagement level is greater.
8. Be authentic and own up to your own mistakes.
When team members see that you are truthful about your own performance, they trust that you will be truthful about the performance of others. When people under you make a mistake, if there was no malice attached, you must practice compassion, because nobody gets things right all the time.
9. Create a culture with a well-defined mission and goals.
Talented team members gravitate to businesses and leaders with outstanding cultures. Besides clearly defined expectations, a positive culture today addresses all the basic human needs, including a sense of purpose, sense of contribution, positive engagement, and personal fulfillment.
10. Give people the resources they need to succeed.
Properly giving your team the resources they need is the battle you much fight before asking them to do their part. Resources are not only about training, coaching, and budget, but include meeting basic human needs. Also, focus on finding the resources you need to be an effective leader.
11. Build a large-scale movement rather than a product.
I believe that strong leaders must facilitate team members seeing themselves as an integral part of a movement that is greater than a single innovative product or even a successful business. They want a legacy that outlives them, and motivation to take a leadership role in making it happen.
As Peter Drucker once said, business leadership is the "capacity to make common people achieve uncommon performance." After all, we are all just common people, trying to do a job in the best way we know how. I believe leadership is a lifelong learning experience, but you will do well to incorporate the practices outlined here into your operating style at the first opportunity.