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The 7 Habits of Real Leaders Authenticity and courage are leadership traits you can't get from a book or coach.

By Steve Tobak Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Ever wonder what life was like before we had gazillions of self-help books and blogs to tell us which habits and routines will make us more effective, productive, liked and even happy? How we should and shouldn't talk, behave, work and live?

- We had role models to look up to -- real leaders guided by principles of truth, integrity and personal accountability.

- We had real relationships with actual human mentors to help guide us when we faced tough dilemmas.

- We thought for ourselves, trusted our instincts, and sought to be the best we could be.

That's what life was like. And I'm pretty sure that we were more effective, productive, liked, and yes, maybe even happy.

Related: 4 Great Non-Business Role Models for Entrepreneurs

Look, I'm not going to sit here and argue that Stephen Covey's seminal book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is a waste of time and money. After all, he has millions of fans and paying customers. I may not be one of them, but then, I'm different.

I've always felt the need to be my genuine self. To do things my own way and let the naysayers be damned. If folks want to follow, that's their business, but I certainly wouldn't encourage it. One of me is more than enough for this world, thank you very much.

Considering that all the real entrepreneurs and business leaders I've known have also had their own way of doing things, I thought I'd pay tribute to their genre with a list of my own. If you read them as sort of anti-habits, then you're reading them right. So, with all due respect to Covey's legacy, I give you …

The 7 Habits of Real Leaders

Habit 1: Ignore all those lists of habits.

Starting with this one. And above all, don't read self-help business books and blogs. They'll suck your brain dry, one neuron at a time. Someone recently told me that Virgin's Richard Branson doesn't read business books. I have no idea if that's true, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is. I don't, and that's been a winning formula.

Habit 2: Be the genuine you.

In a world full of fakes and phonies, virtual personas and avatars, profiles, bios and about pages that bear little resemblance to reality, authenticity is quickly becoming an endangered quality. But here's the thing. If you have the confidence and courage to just be you, instead of the person you or anyone else thinks you should be, that alone distinguishes you from all the digital clones.

Related: 7 Qualities That Distinguish Genuine Leaders From Bossy Poseurs

Habit 3: Focus on what matters.

Our gadget-addicted world is making us chronically distracted, detached, and disengaged. Which is ironic, since everyone thinks they're connecting when they're really just vying for attention and feeding their bottomless pit of an ego with instant gratification. Instead, do only what matters. That will instantly make you way more effective than the content-crazy masses.

Habit 4: Seek your own path.

Nothing is more ludicrous than the notion that a book, a seminar or a coach can guide you to your one true path to become the great whatever you're destined to be. What a load of nonsense. The only true sources of wisdom, self-knowledge and perspective are experiencing the real world and listening quietly to your inner world.

Related: 3 Critical Checkpoints When Entrepreneurs Should Seek Advice

Habit 5: Question the status quo.

Every great CEO I've known had no patience for the status quo. Wildly successful entrepreneurs create company cultures in their own image, like Mark Zuckerberg's "The Hacker Way," Jeff Bezos's "Purposeful Darwinism" and John Mackey's "Conscious Capitalism." And "Think Different" perfectly describes the essence of Steve Jobs and Apple.

Habit 6: Be excellent.

Yes, that little pearl of wisdom comes from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and Keanu Reeves' carefree pre-Matrix days. What does it mean? Whatever you love doing, go for it. Whatever you're good at, work to be great at it. And it certainly wouldn't hurt to "be excellent to each other," either. Strive to be excellent.

Habit 7: Energize.

No, not like in Star Trek, at least not until Elon Musk invents a transporter teleportation machine to take us to Mars. I'm talking about the unique ability to engage and empower others to rise above themselves and together accomplish what mere mortals say can't be done. That's the essence of true leadership.

As I say in my book, Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur: Leaders lead. Followers follow. You can't do both. The choice is yours.

Steve Tobak

Author and Managing Partner, Invisor Consulting

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

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