For hundreds of years, people have wanted to know the answer to one question: Are leaders born or made?
In other words, is leadership a matter of having the right genes or the right education?
After decades of research and thousands of published studies, the answer is a definitive “yes.”
In other words, some people are more inclined to exhibit leadership behavior — it comes to them naturally. But everyone can learn to become a more effective leader.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO, a vice president, director, manager, supervisor, team lead or parent. You can become a much more effective leader. You can exert more influence, and you can make a bigger and better difference in your organization.
The learning process starts with self-examination. After 30 years of research, teaching, corporate consulting and speaking to thousands of people, I’m convinced that the best, most effective leaders play nine roles and all of them quite well.
Take a look at how you’re doing. Ask yourself the following questions — the nine tests every leader has to pass.
1. Do have a clear vision of the future that you’re actively driving?
Leaders have a vision for a bigger, better and brighter future, and they have the courage to stand up for that vision when it’s under attack.
However, effective leaders balance future vision with present-day reality. They know enough about the details to know whether or not the vision is being achieved and whether or not they’re on the right course.
2. Do you have written goals for what you hope to accomplish?
Visions are often grandiose. Specific goals make them more manageable. So exceptional leaders are goal setters, without exception. They do more than wish upon a star and wait for the law of attraction to give them everything they want and need.
While leaders understand and use the power of attraction, they do more than that. They write down their goals — they know a written goal is hundreds of times more likely to be achieved than a goal merely thought about.
3. Are you focused on the actions that must be taken?
Leaders take action on the big vision and the specific goals, and they refuse to make excuses for inaction.
Leaders also delegate actions that others must take, and they make sure their followers take those actions. They assertively ask others, “How are we going to get this done?”
In the final analysis, a leader cares more about getting things done than who gets the credit.
4. Do you pursue change? Are you always looking for bigger and better results, rather than sticking with the status quo?
Leaders initiate and shape change rather than passively accept the status quo. They challenge others when they hear them say, “We’ve never done it that way before.”
Change-making leaders are also readers. But they don’t just read for reading’s sake. They read so they can get new ideas on how to change things for the better. When I coach executives, I ask them what they’ve read recently to improve themselves as a leader. But then I take them off guard when I say, “I actually don’t care what you’ve read. I want to know what changes you’ve made as a result of what you read.”
5. Do you spend time communicating with others? And are you continually improving on your ability to communicate?
Effective leaders communicate consciously and constantly. They think before they speak to make the impact they desire, and they communicate with everyone possible in the organization.
The best leaders are also known for the way they listen and the questions they ask. They adhere to the ageless advice that says you should “seek to understand before you seek to be understood.” Leaders stop assuming they understand and start asking a lot more questions to make sure they’re truly communicating.
The best leaders practice paraphrasing where they re-phrase what they heard to see if it’s actually what the speaker intended to say. They listen, paraphrase and ask, “Did I get it right? Is that what you were trying to say?”
6. Do you project a contagious, positive attitude?
W. Clement Stone, the CEO of one of the most successful insurance companies in the U.S., told his sales agents, “The sale is contingent upon the attitude of the salesperson, not the attitude of the prospect.”
In a similar sense, great leaders know their effectiveness is more closely linked to their own attitude than that of the followers. They know that if they’re going to motivate others they must first show others how positive and motivated they are.
Leaders keep a positive attitude. They refuse to give up, and they realize that things are seldom as bad as they might appear at first.
7. Do you consciously work on developing the people around you?
Leaders are always looking for opportunities to develop the leadership potential they see in others. Indeed, effective leaders are more focused on developing talent than they are on acquiring self-oriented power. As author and coach Virginia Satir taught, “Power can be used for growth rather than who has the right to do what to whom and when.”
8. Do you look for lessons in every mistake?
Mistakes are a part of life and work. And effective leaders accept that, whether it’s a mistake they make personally or a mistake made by one of their followers.
However, great leaders are more concerned with what was learned by that mistake. As one of my clients tells his staff, “I don’t care what you’ve done but what you’ve learned.”
In the processing of mistakes, effective leaders avoid the “they” word, referring to what “they” did wrong. They use the “we” word much more often, talking about how “we” can fix this so it doesn’t happen again.
9. Do you consistently reward excellent performance?
Leaders evaluate people and place people in positions based on their strengths, performance and potential rather than seniority or political correctness. And leaders consistently reward people for a job well done because they know unrewarded performance tends to disappear over time.
In particular, leaders reward problem solvers. They know that a part of their success is because someone is solving problems for them. It may be the cheerful employee who treats the customers with respect or the maid that cleans the offices. All these people — and many more — are helping solve the problems in the lives of leaders, and they reward them.
The good news is you can improve your leadership abilities. You can maximize your influence and make your organization a better place to work and your home a better place to live. And it starts here, with your own self-examination.