What commitments are you making when you take on a leadership role? Your answer may determine how effective you really are.

"So much of success is a function of personal leadership," says Vince Molinaro, managing director for leadership solutions at Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions and author of The Leadership Contract.

"I see the difference between those who show up every day very clear on what it means to be a leader, and others who are going through the motions," he says. "It's as if they clicked 'agree' on an online contract without reading the terms and conditions." By contrast, strong leaders know exactly what they're signing up for when they step into a leadership role.

It all comes down to these four commitments:

1. Leadership is a decision.

"You have to really define who you are as a leader, not just an individual contributor to the organization," Molinaro says. "Are you prepared to lead the way to whatever you believe is right? We've all worked with leaders who show up every day with that decision clearly made, and others who are just there."

One tell-tale sign is accountability. When things go wrong, do you blame external forces or others in your organization? Real leaders accept responsibility as the heads of their teams, and they're always working to do things better.

2. Leadership is an obligation.

Once you've made that deliberate decision to be a leader, you must accept that the expectations are higher for you than for everyone else in your organization. You have a duty to your team, your customers, and your community, Molinaro says. Part of that duty is holding to a higher standard of behavior than you might expect from those around you. Another part is recognizing your own limitations.

"For entrepreneurs and small business owners, the obligation may be to step outside your role," Molinaro says. "Some people are really good during the early growth phase of a company, but as it grows larger and needs to implement processes, that may not be their strength. Their obligation then may be to bring in a different leader for the next phase of growth."

3. Leadership is hard work.

"Leadership is hard, and getting harder," Molinaro says. "When you're running a business, there are a lot of great things that have to get done, and also some hard things." These might include repairing a client relationship that's soured, confronting an employee who isn't performing, or giving candid feedback to someone who needs it."

"It's human nature to avoid the hard stuff, but if you do, you weaken your company," he says. "If you have the courage to tackle the hard stuff, you become stronger."

4. Leadership takes a community.

This is an especially important commitment for small business owners, who often fall into feeling isolated in their positions. "You have to build a sense of community within your company, with bedrock relationships and people who can act as your advisors," he says. And you must nurture other leaders within your organization, and hold them to the same four commitments.

"When you do all that," Molinaro says, "customers can see the difference."

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