It has been said that there is no recipe for greatness. While it’s true that there is no one prescribed formula for leadership, many successful leaders have certain habits in common. Successful leadership takes more than luck and talent. Natural leaders certainly exist, but the most successful leaders are able to harness their innate talent and direct it with vision and discipline. They work hard to cultivate qualities of emotional intelligence – qualities that everyone would benefit from having.
Just as writers and artists must step beyond their talent and work diligently at their craft, pioneers in the business and tech industries must cultivate the key habits that elevate them from innovators to visionary leaders.
The good news is, these virtues are not exclusive. Anyone can – and should – work on them to become a better version of themselves, at work and in life. Though they may seem contradictory, they are not: rather than being at odds with one another, they weave together to create balance. And successful leaders are, above all, balanced individuals. Read on to discover the five traits successful leaders exhibit on and off the job.
1) They are confident. This point seems to be the most intuitive, but true confidence is more than just sureness of self: it is the ability to inspire the same sureness in other people. According to a recent study by Dina Krasikova, assistant professor of management at the University of Texas at San Antonio, the key to great leadership does not lie in creativity, but confidence. In an age where creativity is touted as the pinnacle of great leadership, confidence is one of the best indicators of a leader’s present and future success. But confidence means more than just a belief in one’s work and its value. It also has a direct effect on creativity, in that it begets creativity. “When leaders feel confident that they can produce creative outcomes, their subordinates become more creative,” Krasikova notes. Successful leaders are not only confident in their own abilities, but they have the power to inspire confidence in others, resulting in a greater sense of well-being and a stronger company as a whole.
2) They are humble. As legendary boxer Muhammad Ali reportedly said, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” Benjamin Franklin, one of the greatest men America has produced, famously had trouble with humility and made it his lifelong goal. While humility can be a difficult virtue to cultivate, the value lies in the daily practice of trying. Being able to listen to other people’s ideas and absorb them without pushing one’s own agenda or insisting on having the last word is an invaluable gift for a leader. While a great leader must be confident, they must also take care not to get wrapped up in pride and self-importance, so that they may remain clear-eyed and focused on their goals and the greater good. A great leader knows there is always more to learn, and learning comes from staying open. Self-feeding greatness eats itself up quickly.
3) They are good communicators. “Communication is the real work of leadership,” says Harvard professor Nitin Nohria. In order to be a successful leader, one must know how to reach people. From sales-style persuasion to leading a team, a great leader knows how to communicate their ideas clearly, effectively, and in a relatable way. They must communicate in a way that inspires people to act. Nohria also notes that the method of communication is important. A great leader must know the art of simplicity; they must be able to distill their larger vision into something accessible and memorable. A successful leader understands their audience and knows how to tailor their message to resonate with different people. In short, successful leaders talk to people – not at them.
4) They are good listeners. The other half of communicating well is the ability to listen. While many leaders struggle with this, truly great leaders excel at it. Being continually curious and absorbing information from others without having to assert one’s point is one of a leader’s most beneficial tools. The truly great leader takes every opportunity as a learning opportunity, and they know how to listen to people in a way that makes them feel heard, which builds trust. They know how to process information, even negative information, without taking it personally, and can synthesize it in a way that makes sense for them and for their work. Being a good listener inspires openness, and truly successful leaders know the importance of listening as an integral part of effective communication.
5) They welcome failure. It’s a universal fact: nothing great has ever been achieved on the first try. Thomas Edison famously made 10,000 attempts at the light bulb before succeeding! Great leaders aren’t afraid to fail, plain and simple. Of course, failure is never the desired outcome, but when they fail, they always see it as an opportunity to learn and do better. They believe in their work and their talent and are confident in the results they will achieve, and try again to do things differently without being discouraged. In the words of the great leader Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” A successful leader does not view failure as a setback or a character judgment: it is merely a stepping stone to achievement.
6) They are positive. There’s no substitute for positive leadership. When leaders are patient and allow others to grow, they create more engaging, productive work environments. According to Harvard Business Review, it’s true that positive leaders can create more successful work environments.
- Focus on workers’ strengths — Support your workers by acknowledging their strengths. Thank them for their suggestions, business acumen, and whenever they offer support on everyday projects. Building a thankful and supportive atmosphere can help build stronger bonds between workers and help projects succeed with less friction.
- Provide social value — In today’s society, a large majority of workers, largely Millennials, want to work for companies and leaders who not only inspire them professionally, but offer them a sense of purpose. Build value for workers by offering them business goals with a purpose or a strong moral component. You can bridge the gap between personal and organizational goals so that workers develop a strong sense of individuality and value in your company’s business strategy. Social value can unite workers through sustainable, socially-responsible principles.
- Offer shared meaning– Offer a strong sense of shared meaning in your mission statement. Provide powerful connections between organizational and personal ventures.
- Mentor your workers — Guidance is always key to a healthy work culture. Provide guidance and rules of success for your employees. Keep your business strategy authentic and create genuine relationships with your workers.
- Be open — It’s important to offer information to your employees so they can do the best job possible. Being transparent about key details can foster a sense of trust and keep employees on the same page; that way, everyone understands why they must carry out duties, as well as the reasoning behind big, company-wide initiatives and pivots.
You can demand hard work, but remember that negative attitudes towards your workers does not foster a sense of success or leadership. It’s always good to remain inclusive and egalitarian to improve innovation within your company.
One of the most important aspects of being a successful leader is to establish these traits in a unique way that is authentic to your business goals and who you are as a person. These foundations for being a contributor to better business practices, but also society, can help produce new ways of thinking that can benefit all sectors of society and pay it forward.