How can you spot a leader?
Is it because they have a nametag that proudly displays “Manager.” Are they the founder of a startup? A superintendent? Politician? Head coach of a baseball team?
If you noticed a theme, those were all titles.
As Eric Sheninger, Senior Fellow, International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE), writes perfectly in the Huffington Post, “A title doesn’t automatically anoint one as a leader. Leadership is comprised of a dynamic mix of behaviors, mindset, and skills, which are used to move people where a leader wants them to be for the betterment of the organization.”
In other words, it’s the actions, not the title, that make someone a leader. What actions? Well, here are nine of them that successful leaders do day-in and day-out.
1. They clearly communicate their vision and performance expectations.
Leaders are known to be excellent communicators. That’s because it’s a necessity. How else do you expect to get others on-board with your vision and explain the steps needed to achieve this vision?
This starts with leaders having to be authentic, meaning that they know who they are and what their values are, as well as what their plans are for the future. Relaying your excitement for the future is a surefire to get your team to buy into your vision. But, you also need to be able to clearly explain the performance expectations to your team so that they can see the bigger picture.
- A strategic planning process that defines direction and objectives.
- A communication strategy that informs team members where they fit within the big picture.
- A process for goal setting, evaluation, and accountability.
- Organizational support.
2. They make lightning fast decisions.
During his farewell address, President Harry Truman said, “The President -- whoever he is -- has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.”
That’s also a trait of successful leaders, not just the President. Leaders are known for being expert decision makers.
They’re also known for making these decisions incredibly fast. How fast? Some say that they can make a staggering 30 decisions in 30 minutes. But, how are they able to make these good decisions so quickly?
Nick Tasler, CEO of Decision Pulse and the author of “Domino: The Simplest Way to Inspire Change,” writes that it’s because of a “simple, flexible Know-Think-Do framework,” that involves:
- Knowing the ultimate strategic objective, a.k.a. what will have the biggest impact.
- Thinking rationally about how your options align with the ultimate objective.
- Being proactive with the knowledge and thoughts that you’ve had.
3. They put the spotlight on others.
Leaders rarely make themselves the center of attention. They acknowledge, and show their gratitude, of the hard work, dedication, success, and even other leadership efforts from team members via a monthly newsletter, weekly meeting, social media shout out, or award ceremony.
They also encourage others to share their ideas and to speak-up so that they can voice their perspectives or point-of-view.
Related: 9 Ways to Recognize a Real Leader
4. They put themselves last.
“Leaders are the ones who are willing to give up something of their own for us. Their time, their energy, their money, maybe even the food off their plate. When it matters, leaders choose to eat last,” writes Simon Sinek in “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't.” Sinek saw this in the Marine Corp where the most junior person eats first and the most senior person eats last. It’s not a rule. It’s viewed as the leader’s responsibility for others.
In short, leaders always put others first - even if they must sacrifice something in return.
5. They accept full responsibility and share the credit.
Successful leaders don’t make excuses or throw their team under the bus when something didn’t go as planned. They don’t embarrass employees in front of everyone. They take full responsibility and blame. And, if they feel a team member made an error, they give this feedback to them in private.
At the same time, when things go as planned, or have exceeded expectations, they don’t take all of the credit. They share this success with the team that worked with them side-by-side - remember, my third point, they put the spotlight on others.
6. They keep people on their toes.
One of the most interesting traits that successful leaders have are being able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of themselves and their team. Instead of letting them get complacent or setting them up for failure, great leaders foster an environment where they can encourage and challenge their teams to learn and grow - both personally and professionally.
Regardless if it’s bringing in a yoga instructor, paying for them to attend a workshop, launching a hack-a-thon, or embracing new technology that streamlines processes, leaders realize that in order for their team to grow, they need to be learning new skills and push their current skill sets to the limit.
7. They focus on the 'how' and 'why.'
Effective leaders don’t focus on numbers and “what” tasks were accomplished. It’s cool that you just landed five new clients. But, “how” did you land those clients? How did your specific team members play a role in that accomplishment? When they congratulate a team member, then explain “why” they did a good job.
Highlighting the “how” and “why” cultivates positive character qualities, as well as provides more in-depth recognition. It also allows the leader, and the team, to realize what worked so that it can be replicated.
8. They take risks without being reckless.
Everything that is worth doing involves risk. Like Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”
Here’s the thing. Successful leaders aren’t risk-takers. They’re calculated risk-takers. They realize the importance of taking risks, and are willing to try something new, even if they fail, but they’re not going to jeopardize the future of their colleagues.
They’ll use their existing knowledge and expertise, resources, and intuition to judge whether or not the risk is worth it.
9. They lead by example.
Cliche statement? Absolutely. But, that doesn't make it any less true.
The greatest of leaders are the ones who “walk the talk.” They don’t run out of the office before everyone else to go golfing. They don’t gossip or talk-down to others. They don’t sabotage someone else’s work. They don’t make questionable deals.
They’re hard working, trustworthy, transparent, ethical, and treat everyone with respect. To build trust and earn respect, they lead by example.