Leadership is one of the most important aspects of any organization, yet is also one of the most difficult terms to define. Leadership means different things to different people, and it becomes obvious that everyone seems to have a different definition of leadership based on the sheer number of books written on the topic. While we can't give a complete summary of all the different theories, we will detail below some of the greatest qualities we have found in some of the greatest leaders.

Lead by Example: If you are going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk. If not, you don't have this necessary trait that establishes credibility and trust between yourself and your team. Anyone can lead in a team, from the President to the janitor, and much of this ability is dependent on whether or not people see substance in your words.

Inspire Shared Vision: Once you know what you want to do, you need to recruit a team that is on the same wavelength. Some of the easiest to relate examples come from sports, and we will use basketball as an example. The general goal is to get the ball in the opponent's hoop, and without the ability to call plays, a team captain can rarely coordinate a complex play that allows the ball to get past the opponent team and into the hoop. By inspiring a shared vision, you can encourage your team to coordinate their actions towards a common goal - getting the ball in the hoop.

Question the Status Quo: All entrepreneurs notice something they don't like about the way things are currently done. There is a failure in the current system that results in some form of injustice that motivates the entrepreneur to take action. As an example, instead of simply walking by someone who is homeless, ask why that person is homeless. This is the inspiration that leads many to start their organization, and many entrepreneurs continue working until the status quo is changed.

Enable others to Act: Once people believe in you through leading by example, inspiring a shared vision, and questioning the status quo, you are now in the position to enable and encourage others to act. Many times people feel they need to be given permission to do amazing things, and by all means encourage them and support them.

Encourage the Heart: Changing the world doesn't occur overnight, and you need to be steadfast in your mission, passion, and dedication in order to see it through to success. By standing firm, you set the tone for your team and if you notice people becoming exhausted, frustrated, or disenfranchised, it is your goal to step in and raise their spirits. Most times the most difficult moments of an organization are right at the cusp of breaking through; you need to be there to push through this rough patch to get through to the other side.

You Can't Please Everyone: Being responsible means sometimes stepping on some toes. Not everyone will see eye to eye, but as long as you stick strong to your values and are resolute in your mission, the problems will prove themselves to be short term and sticking with your conviction will show that you say what you mean and you aren't going to waiver when tough decisions need to be made.

Trust Your Gut: Experts often possess more data than judgment, and elites can often lose touch with the real world. Your gut reaction is usually your best indicator, and to question it is to put in doubt your intuition. While it is good to question your intuition sometimes, and not take things at face value, to incessantly doubt yourself results in a loss of confidence that can hinder your effectiveness.

Challenge the Pros: If you have an amazing idea that could revolutionize the way an industry or field works, don't be afraid to take on the big boys. Many times the leaders in their field become complacent and stop focusing on innovating, providing great customer service, etc. This provides ample opportunity to become the new leader in the field as long as you act quickly and without fear.

Never neglect details: The distinction between good and great is in the details. Apple provides an amazing consumer experience because they think about all of the details. From the product packaging to the support for a dysfunctional product, Apple effectively focuses on all of the details to provide a great consumer expeirence.

Act first, ask forgiveness later: You don't know what you can get away with until you try. It's much easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission. Too often people are quick to say no to an idea before thinking through the possibilities of yes.

Look below the surface: To find the source of a problem, you may have to dig awhile. If a school in the middle of a city is failing, you must be willing to look beyond teachers, books, and other obvious things. What if the city is right in the middle of a gang turf war that involves a lot of drugs and guns? There may be many factors that contribute to the current problem you want to solve, and as such, you must be willing to ask a lot of questions to get the full picture.

Leadership is situational: In some scenarios, you will need to be the leader who charges out front. In others, you will need to be the one who slows things down and questions the process to make sure everything is occurring for the right reasons. There isn't a sinlge best style, because it's all contextual. Don't fit any stereotypes, nor should you chase the latest management fads. You can learn from them and incorporate where they fit, but they should never become the 'right' way to lead.

Always be optimistic: There is nothing as simple to incorporate that produces some amazing morale boosts. Being optimistic doesn't mean operating without caution, but rather a dead certainty that what you are doing has value and will be worthwhile. If you allow yourself to doubt your ability (or your team's abilities), then your team will begin to doubt your abilities, which will almost certainly lead to the negative outcome you were concerned with.

Pick the right people: Every organization is about people, and as such, they are your most valuable asset. The organizations that do the best over the longterm care about their team and making sure their employees fit. When hiring employees, look for individuals who are intelligent and express judgment, and most critically, a capacity to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego, and the drive to get things done. All of these things combined will create a team that is capable, passionate, and results oriented.

Fail early, fail often: If you don't fail, you aren't taking enough risks. Risks are what allow an organization to jump to the front of the pack, but when you act too conservatively and are afraid to make mistakes, you will often miss important trends and key innovations that will make your organization more efficient and effective.

Seek mentors: One of the most underappreciated yet most rewarding ways to learn to lead is to seek a leader who inspires you as a mentor. It can be someone local to your community or the head of a major corporation. Set up monthly or weekly lunches with these people and pick their brains. Smart people learn from their mistakes, wise people learn from the mistakes of others.

Finally, a quotation from one of my favorite leaders, Colin Powell. Mr. Powell says, "Organization doesn't really accomplish anything. Plans don't accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don't much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds."


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