“Being a leader doesn’t require a title, having a title doesn’t make you a leader.” – Unknown
If you think about the most memorable leaders you’ve worked for in your career, they likely all shared key qualities. They were great listeners, they were patient and understanding, but most importantly, they motivated others to work together collaboratively to accomplish great things.
A myth in many workplaces is that leadership is something that's conferred with a title or attained when you direct a team of people. The fact is, leadership is about helping others grow, and that’s something that anyone can do. Being a leader doesn’t require a title, it requires a commitment to motivate yourself and others to inspire positive change. If your desire is to influence and have an impact on others, you already have leadership qualities.
While a leadership role comes with great responsibility, the rewards are even greater. If you aspire to attain a leadership position in the future, the best way to prepare yourself is to demonstrate key leadership characteristics in the present. Whether you’re a leader in an official capacity, or a team member who seeks greater responsibility, adopting and practicing the following traits will put you on the fast-track to leadership.
Communication and influence
To truly motivate others to accomplish great things, you’ll need to be able to share your ideas persuasively and ensure your messages are received as intended. Effective communication is at the root of “executive presence” – the ability of a leader to engage, align, inspire, and move people to act. Executive presence has been described as a leader’s “it” factor. Colleagues in the presence of a leader possessing executive presence feel compelled to follow. It’s the “secret sauce” that makes one leader stand out from the rest.
If you’re lacking strong communication skills and executive presence, you may be stalling your career. Fortunately, these skills can be improved with practice. A study by Namrata Kala, an assistant professor of economics at MIT Sloan, found that soft skills training (interpersonal and communication skills) garnered a 250 per cent return on investment less than a year after the training’s conclusion.
Our ability to understand and regulate our feelings is what psychologists often call “emotional intelligence.” Leadership performance is elevated by emotional intelligence. Leaders who have a high level of emotional intelligence enjoy a variety of benefits, including a heightened sense of self-awareness, an exceptional ability to understand others, a broad and diverse social network, greater motivation, and a higher income. Emotional intelligence is the most powerful predictor of success and can be improved through learning and practice.
The way we perceive ourselves can be much different than the way our colleagues perceive us due to unconscious bias. The best leaders exercise self-awareness by consistently asking questions about their performance and welcoming constructive feedback. Begin by asking your manager and colleagues for feedback so you may begin to apply your strengths further and address your weaknesses immediately.
To get a detailed picture of how your colleagues and managers perceive you, consider taking a 360° assessment. Designed to build and develop essential leadership competencies, a 360° assessment draws ratings and comments from leaders, colleagues, and direct/indirect reports to provide different perspectives on your own leadership performance. The resulting report presents feedback in a way that is easy to navigate and understand with summary charts and detailed profiles. You’ll also receive a guide to create a practical and sustainable leadership development plan.
In 2007, renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck introduced the term “growth mindset” to the leadership lexicon with her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Leaders who believe their talents can be developed – through learning, practice, and hard work – have a growth mindset. Those with a growth mindset continuously learn throughout their careers to stay current with the best practices and trends in their industry, adapt to the changing dynamics of the contemporary workplace, identify opportunities for personal growth, and, most importantly, apply their new knowledge and skills to support the development of their team. Having a growth mindset is essential for leadership success.
Supportive and encouraging
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry S. Truman
To be an effective leader, you must have the trust of your team. They need to know they can count on you to follow through on your commitments and to support them. Do you encourage them to speak their mind? Do you recognize them when they perform well? Do you really listen or do you wait until it’s your turn to talk?
The most effective leaders understand that their team performs at its best when team members are rewarded for their progress and recognized consistently. Leaders take the blame for their team's failures and give credit to their team for success.
A strategic mindset
Leaders are responsible for aligning their team’s performance to the strategic objectives of the organization. Strategic leaders must balance the organization’s short-term financial stability with long-term success. You must not only be able to see what's on the horizon, but anticipate the challenges and opportunities that lie beyond the horizon.
Individual contributors may be self-interested or concerned with only the activities of their immediate coworkers. A strategic leader must clearly communicate the importance of organizational strategy and inspire their team to think strategically and be goal-oriented. Exceptional leaders have a deep understanding of the organization’s mission and are able to model its core values. Leaders with strategic thinking skills add the most value to their organization.
In today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) global business environment, organizations must always be innovating to differentiate themselves and guard against disruptive forces. If you want to be a leader at work, contribute creative ideas and encourage idea sharing and divergent thinking among your colleagues.
Pursuit of growth opportunities
Once you’ve honed your communication skills, developed your emotional intelligence, and have adopted a strategic mindset, you’re ready to prove what you can do. Seek opportunities to stretch yourself and put those new skills to the test. Ask for more responsibility and challenging projects to practice your leadership skills. Your leadership ascent will be swift once you demonstrate your hard work and dedication to becoming a leader at work.
“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily, even if you had no title of position.” – Brian Tracy
About The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School
The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School is the home for executive Learning and Development (L&D) in Canada. It is Canada’s only full-service L&D house, blending Financial Times top-ranked university-based executive education with talent assessment, instructional design and strategy, and behaviour change sustainment.
Rooted in Ivey Business School’s real-world leadership approach, The Ivey Academy is a place where professionals come to get better, to break old habits and establish new ones, to practice, to change, to obtain coaching and support, and to join a powerful peer network. Follow The Ivey Academy on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.