Taylor Swift and Pope Francis Have at Least 1 Thing in Common. Can You Guess What? You can teach yourself how to be a leader. Just take notes on -- yes, we're putting their names together -- the pop singer and the pope.
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When I was building my business, I struggled to be the best leader I could be. My biggest obstacle was public speaking, which is crucial when talking to investors and growing your business. Now, after years of practice and helping those on my team conquer the same hurdle, my public speaking skills have improved immensely.
My point? Leadership skills aren't always innate -- but you can teach yourself to be a true leader. And one of the best ways to learn is by observing successful examples. Take, for instance, two hugely influential personalities: Taylor Swift and Pope Francis.
Swift, of course, is a chart-topping pop artist -- her album 1989 sold 3.66 million copies the year it debuted -- who displays leadership as a social media sensation, with more than 85 million Twitter followers.
Francis is the Roman Catholic Church's 266th pope and spiritual leader of about one-sixth of the Earth's inhabitants. As a world religious leader, he gave a lecture on leadership and responsibility at the TED2017 Conference in Vancouver.
Chances are, however, that you've never considered the two in the same sentence. Yet maybe you should, because both have outstanding leadership qualities.
Finding your place in the leadership spotlight
While they are quite different individuals, Pope Francis and Taylor Swift share some of the same foundational leadership qualities. Good leaders share a positive message and provide inspiration, But if like me, you weren't born with all the leadership qualities you'd like to have, you can learn a thing or two from both the pop singer and the Pope. Here are a few tips to glean from them that can help you boost your leadership abilities:
1. Honesty is the best policy -- no, really.
As a leader, you should hold yourself to the highest standards of integrity and honesty. In a survey of more than 100,000 people, the researchers behind "The Leadership Challenge" (who three decades ago established established the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership) found that respondents valued honesty above all other leadership qualities.
Honesty makes it difficult for anyone to question your motives. Plus, once your reputation for honesty has been established, you're likely to attract other people who exhibit similar qualities.
Honesty enables growth; growth enables maturity; and maturity enables confidence. Swift, for example, has used relatable lyrics from her own life to gain millions of devoted followers. For the leader of any company, a similar ability to be honest can help build a business from the ground up.
2. Don't leave your employees in the dust.
If a group perceives its leader as being unavailable -- whether that means he or she never attends meetings or always acts aloof -- that leader is unlikely to be someone they feel they can approach with concerns or new ideas. Research from the Harvard Business Review has shown that leaders worldwide rate fostering open communication and a connected workplace among the top 10 most important leadership qualities. Thus, leaders need to remain available to support others and keep them engaged in their projects.
Pope Francis, for example, has forgone many of the luxuries his predecessor enjoyed, including handmade red loafers and a Mercedes-Benz, for simpler styles. Modesty is his way of life, making him more accessible to those serving him in the Vatican and those following him worldwide.
3. Talk less, listen more.
Listening can be a hard skill to learn when it doesn't come naturally. A lot of leaders have plenty to say but don't take the time to hear what others have to offer. Business advisor Ram Charan claims that one in four business leaders don't listen as well as they should and that their businesses suffer as a result. The key is to listen with the intention of understanding, then implement new ideas and advice.
On Nov. 10, Swift released her latest album, Reputation, after months of buildup -- a release schedule other popular artists like Beyoncé have eschewed in favor of surprise album drops. But, after Swift and her team collected data and listened to fan preferences, they discovered that fans prefer the excitement of anticipating new music. Even though the trend is moving away from the traditional mode of release, Swift listened to her fans to give them the schedule they've come to love.
4. Let employees take the stage.
A good leader must learn to let others express their ideas openly -- and when those ideas are good, implement them. A Duke University study found that leaders who implemented a participative decision-making process gained valuable knowledge from workers at other levels, helping them make more strategic decisions.
Francis is an unusual pope for many reasons, but mostly because of his desire for input from all parts of his global church. The nine cardinals he appointed as his "C9" advisors hail from every continent (except Antartica), and Francis has been known to sit in on these meetings himself. C9 member Oswald Gracias has said Francis consults the group on the vast majority of his decisions, from document drafts to departmental reorganizations.
5. Be ready to pivot on performance.
Leaders must also be able to change and correct course. Team members will come and go; industry or community trends will shift; and the scope of projects or team responsibilities will change. Leaders need to be able to adapt when these obstacles show up in their paths. In IBM's 2015 Global C-Suite Study, about 80 percent of executives surveyed reported that they were trying out new business models to make their companies more flexible in light of newly available technologies. In short, these executives knew they had to change with the times.
The Pope has established a reputation for being open to adapting to the modern world, helping the Church regain the trust of its members after a series of scandals. Swift has reinvented herself innumerable times, consistently finding new ways to interact with fans, whether by hosting them at secret sessions or replying to fan posts on Tumblr.
Not everyone is born with perfect leadership skills, but that doesn't mean any of us can't be leaders. With time, practice and excellent examples like the pop singer and the Pope, you too can become the leader you want to be.