Introduction to Leadership
You have been assigned captain of your sports team because you’re the tallest in the group. You dropped an idea in the suggestion box, and it was good enough that management took note. You gave a wonderful speech and everyone thinks you have many similarities with Martin Luther King Jr. and you’re the new community leader or better still, you just became a father or mother. Welcome on board, you have stumbled into leadership. You never dreamt of leading anything let alone prepare for leadership. Since your newly found leadership role, you have probably heard a thousand times that everyone wins only when the leader gets better but the stats that say thousands of new or accidental leaders fail is not helping the matter. So what does it matter whether we stumble into leadership or we’ve been prepared for it throughout our lives? Are there things that one can do to become the right or better leader?
The call to leadership happens all the time. Leaders die, retire, get fired, fail, or move higher, creating the need for other leaders to step up and use their skills to fill the void. Whether you are in a business, big corporation, nonprofit, or community, the process is the same. Situations give rise to situational leadership all the time and as someone rightly said, “we are all leaders by creation”, we all have numerous opportunities to learn leadership before and after we are appointed to lead. This article is set to walk you through some of the most important attributes of an outstanding leader. Enjoy!
Must-have Attributes of Successful Leaders
Show some vulnerability
Everyone makes mistakes. You have probably noticed that we live in a world where people try everything to avoid or minimize mistakes or at least, mask them from everyone else. From political leaders giving public speeches that are rigidly scripted, parents hiding their high school/college grades from their children to bureaucratic managers and their bottleneck bureaucracy, the list is endless. Great leaders distinguish themselves by allowing followers to see their mistakes and how much they’ve learned from them. One of the best things you can do for yourself as a new leader is to let people see that you are real, human-like themselves with similar passion, expectations, and growth. That’s an open invitation to followers to come near you, trust you and adapt your visions as theirs. Smart move! This is what some experts called credible leadership.
Empathy is Key
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. For all that empathy’s worth, it is the ability to put yourself in another man’s shoes. Great leaders are observant, no wonder they see beyond followers’ smart dresses and smile to address everyone’s needs. Empathy cannot be faked. People are sensitive, they’ll see through your intentions in minutes. Therefore, altruism, the willingness to put others’ needs above your own, organizational politics, the ability to convince people that the organizational goals represent employees’ goals and expectations are integral parts of empathy.
Step up your effective communication skill
When do you think of people whose words made an unforgettable impact on you, who comes to mind? I am sure that they are not the most eloquent. That’s because effective communication is two ways, listening to others as much as one speaks. The need for a leader to communicate effectively is more evident in multicultural organizations where employees come from different cultures which are either high or low in context. For example, in Nigeria, a high context culture and language zone, if a child asks the mother in the presence of visitors, “can I make chocolate from the refrigerator?” and the mother replies, “sure, go ahead”, the child needs to study the eye movement of the mother to ascertain what the mother means which could be anything from “you dare not”, to “go into your room now” or simply yes.
So the effective communicator may come from a low context language like the USA where yes means yes without multiple layers of meaning and still be culturally intelligent, able to deduce people’s needs, feelings, and expectations beyond what has been said. Effective communication is all about transformation. This does not imply organizational goals alone but the development and growth of people in the organization as well. So, whenever you think of how to be a better communicator, remember the four Is of transformational leadership: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration.
A little dose of Self-confidence, please!
So, what if it is your first time leading anything? What if you don’t have it in you? What if it’s only a matter of days before everyone realizes you’re no leader? What if? Show some self-confidence. One leadership expert rightly defines self-confidence as self-efficacy which is the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the course of actions required to produce given attainments. Self-efficacy influences how people think, feel or motivate themselves in living up to the standard worthy of their leadership status or role.
Do you want to overcome feelings of inferiority and low self-worth? Improve your self-efficacy by reminiscing on personal mastery, vicarious experiences, and verbal persuasion. Personal mastery can be described as the influence of past success on an individual. Success in past experiences increases an individual’s self-efficacy as he attempts similar tasks in the future. You may not have leadership experience but at least you’ve scored goals that help the team win before, you gave a suggestion that gifts the company a competitive edge, you have successfully babysat before. You get the idea- you can hold your own in your area of expertise. Let these achievements be the stepping stones to others in your new role as a leader. Similar to personal mastery is vicarious experience when you gain confidence for a task because you have observed the performance of a peer or superior in a similar task. No matter how little, people have complimented you on some of your strengths before. Take pleasure in such verbal persuasion and channel it towards doing better.
Where’s your Locus of Control?
Let’s put the whole discussion into perspective. Leaders fail. Great leaders fail. Whenever mistakes or moral failure occur, will you blame God, the devil, pressure, the environment, or anything but you? Locus of control is defined as the extent to which an individual believes they have control over the events and situations in their lives, it is an individual’s perception about the causes of their living conditions. People with an external locus of control believe that their outcomes are decided by factors extrinsic to themselves or dependent on fate, luck, or powerful others, On the other hand, people with an external locus of control take responsibility for their mistakes. Great leaders have an internal locus of and don’t attribute mismanagement of funds to funds to satanic attacks, pressure from family members, or accumulating debt. Likewise, such leaders take responsibility for followers’ mistakes. The survival of your leadership may depend on the acceptance of these facts: you will make mistakes or fail at one time or the other, you are better off admitting to your failure and making adjustments than shifting the blame to subordinates.
The list of the attributes of an outstanding leader is unending. Space will fail us to examine self-awareness, self-regulation, emotional intelligence, charisma, authenticity, result, and so on. The good news is that one does not have to be conscious of all of these attributes. Practicing the attributes espoused above incorporates the rest and can set you up for a rewarding leadership journey. Take it one at a time and improve till they all become parts of you. Good luck at being the best leader you can be.