How to Grow Your Potential as a Leader
Did someone tell you “you are not leadership material?” Here is why they were wrong and what you can do now to start growing yourself as a leader
Anyone can be a leader
Everyone admires “them.” When they speak, people listen. Everyone likes them, or so it seems. Even their critics admire them. They exude confidence and natural charisma. They seemingly command respect without asking for it. They lead boldly and without apology. And anyone who is not like them is told: “You are not leadership material.”
What does “leadership material” mean anyway?
I have found that people who use this phrase have a narrow definition of what it means to be a leader. They think in terms of titles, power, control, and social status. According to Suzi Skinner, Managing Director of Roar People, our definition of leadership is too narrow.
“There’s been so much dialogue, whether it’s here or internationally, about scarcity of great leaders. We just don’t have the leaders that we need. But actually, that’s because we’re only looking at the top of the hierarchy. Of course, they are the ones that have more decision making power, but they’re not necessarily the ones that are leading.”
Roar People tries to get leaders and organizations to see that leadership exists at all levels. John Maxwell, author of the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and a leadership expert, leadership proof comes from one thing: the power to influence.
True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that cannot be mandated. It must be earned.
The key points here are:
Leaders are not always at the top of the hierarchy.
Leaders are not appointed or assigned.
Leadership cannot be mandated.
Leadership must be earned.
The key word here is earned, meaning that to lead, you must work at being a leader. And if being a great leader requires work, this means that all of us, no matter who we are, has a shot at becoming a great leader. You do NOT have to be born with some special gene or personality. With a little effort on your part, you can become a person of significant influence — in other words, a leader.
Growing Your Leadership Potential
Getting started where you are and building your potential as a leader begins with you. You cannot leave it in the hands of other people. And especially not in the hands of the people telling you that your leadership sucks.
You must embrace that you are a leader and begin thinking and behaving like one. You do not need permission from anyone to start your personal leadership journey. All you need is a plan on how to get there and a willingness to take responsibility for building your influence through people.
In the classic book by Napolean Hill, Think and Grow Rich, he outlines numerous skills and strategies for building yourself into a leader. I initially picked up his book more than 20 years ago, and it was, at that time, more than 30 years old. But the principles he distills are timeless and just as relevant today as they were in 1960. Couple his principles with my fast-track action steps and you will be well on your way to developing yourself into a person of influence.
Seven Positive Leadership Factors
Courage. No leader is well respected if they cannot stand up to opposition and injustice. Cultivating the ability to speak up, speak out, and stand for something that counts is an easy way to command respect and develop influence.
Fast track tip for courage: Start today expressing your opinions with boldness and confidence. When asked your opinion, do not hesitate to stand up for what you believe and state it. Develop the tendency to speak your mind without apology or concern for what others might think.
“I have found that a leader’s presence with an audience is a function of his or her presence of mind. In other words, clarity, credibility, and conviction with an audience are contingent on being clear, authentic and committed within yourself.” ~ Elizabeth Powell, You will have a voice if you find the courage to speak
Making Definite Decisions. People gravitate towards leaders who are sure about themselves and where they are going. Being indecisive is the kiss of death for a leader. Cultivate the habit of making definite decisions and sticking with those decisions.
Fast track tip for definite decisions: Take the time to think things through before deciding. Avoid making spur-of-the-moment decisions for important topics that impact other people. Your serious deliberation will be evident to those who you lead and will command their respect. Creating your own decision-making rules is a great place to start. Check out Tony Robbins’ six-step process to get started.
“Write everything down on paper. If you attempt to do everything in your head, or even on a screen, your brain will end up looping over the same things. Instead of getting resolution, every possible idea will create more stress because you’ll just go back to your first thought. Putting everything on paper removes this pressure.” ~ Tony Robbins
Do more than what is required. Developing the habit of going above-and-beyond on any task assigned creates a favorable impression of excellence. People admire the dedication to excellence. No one respects the person who is always looking for ways to get out of doing what is required. Look for ways to contribute that “extra” without making a big deal of it. Leaders don’t watch what happens; they make it happen.
Fast track tip for doing more than required. The easiest way to get started is developing the habit of finishing tasks earlier than needed. When we complete tasks quickly, it puts us in the position to then do more than what is required. Develop a reputation as a person who gets things done.
“The go-to players are more afraid of missing out than making mistakes. They get out in front and assert themselves when others shrink back. They go all in, knowing the spotlight can feed them as much as embarrass them. When crunch time arrives, they want the ball in their hands. More than anything else, they want to own the outcome. And that doesn’t come from waiting around to be asked.” ~ Jeff Schmit, The Go-To Person
Seeking harmony in relationships. Caring for and about others is a crucial trait of leaders. No leader gains respect without caring for those who follow. Working towards harmonious relationships enriches your life as well as that of others. Cultivating a bias towards harmony and peace in your personal relationships will command the respect of those around you.
Fast track tip for seeking harmony in relationships. Follow the law “seek first to understand.” Be slow in forming your judgments about other people and work hard build bridges in communication. Ask questions to deepen your understanding before offering your opinion. And make sure that the words you speak build other people’s confidence and leave them feeling valued.
“When you embody gentleness and compassion you’ll find that your connection deepens naturally as these energies are rooted in trust and kindness. With gentleness, you choose to respond, instead of jumping into reactions and assumptions, and this opens up a dynamic communication flow that is free from fear.” ~ Panache Desai, 5 Ways To Create More Harmony In Your Relationships
Be a master at what you do. Mastery in any field or subject creates a following of people who seek the information that you hold. This is the easiest way to become a leader. Whatever endeavor, career, or business you have decided to pursue, work diligently to become known as an expert who understands your subject deeply. You automatically create value when you are able to teach and coach others out of your knowledge and experience.
Fast track tip to being a master at what you do. Become a constant student in your field or business. Read journals and blogs. Attend seminars. Read books by the leaders in your field. Learn the relevant terms and stay abreast of any trends.
Assume full responsibility. In this era of people looking for others to blame for this and that, taking full responsibility is not a popular topic. When we take responsibility for our actions, decisions, and opinions, we automatically stand apart from the crowd. And standing apart from the crow of “normal” and “mediocre” is the beginning of leadership. People respect those who take full responsibility for their mistakes.
Fast track tip to assuming full responsibility. The next time your team makes a mistake, verbalize your part in it. If it is a personal relationship, take responsibility for your part in it no matter how small that part was. The other person may not reciprocate. This means that you are the leader and they are not. Always add how you will avoid future mistakes to gain respect and so it will not come across as a weak excuse.
“It’s a liberating concept. Help is not coming. The responsibility is yours, and it starts with developing a belief or habit of mind that you, as an individual, are accountable for the quality and timeliness of an outcome, even when you’re working with others. It doesn’t always mean you have authority over a project. Nor does it mean that you shouldn’t involve others. But it does mean you own the obligation to take action and deliver results.” ~ John Coleman, Take Ownership of Your Actions by Taking Responsibility
Use your imagination. Leaders who stand out use their imagination. They look at what others say can’t be done and figure out what can be done. They look at what others say is hard to do and figure out a way to make it happen. It requires them to step outside “what everyone else thinks” meaning that they use their imagination. It also inspires other people to dream bigger and do more.
Fast track tip to using your imagination. Spend time contemplating your important decisions. Do some brainstorming where you allow your imagination to run wild and capture all of the thoughts. Writing down even the wildest ideas and thoughts can give you insights. Go back to the first trait, courage, and figure out how to articulate what you are seeing that others cannot see.
Check out the TedX Video on How to Speak Up for Yourself
There are so many more factors in developing our personal leadership skills. What do you think are the most important leadership skills to develop? What have the best leaders you have known done? Do you believe leadership can be developed?
My leadership journey began more than 20 years ago and I am learning every day what it takes to be a great leader. I encourage you to step into your leadership journey with boldness and confidence. The world needs more great leaders. I am hoping that you are one of the few who will accept this challenge. I am cheering for you!