What makes a good leader?
It’s an eternally recurring question, for individuals and for organizations. And for good reason — there’s almost never a sufficient answer.
But I’d propose a radically simple idea: to be a leader, you have to start by acting like one.
It’s not your personality or your title that makes you a leader. It’s the choices that you make. For example, how you communicate and act with direct reports, peers and superiors makes all the difference. If you choose to act like a leader, you’ll be treated as one.
The idea that leadership relies upon a conscious choice to “act like a leader” is good news. It means that leadership itself is a choice. It’s a set of behaviors that we can learn, perfect and then hardwire into habit.
So how do you do that?
In the next conversation you have with a colleague, challenge yourself to listen more than you speak. Remain engaged throughout your meetings, paying attention to what each person contributes. Take ownership of your actions. Expect accountability and be accountable for your own commitments. It’s the little things that people recognize and respect — and that build into the overall behavior of “leadership.”
Leaders are people who rise to the occasion, regardless of whether or not they hold a title. Consider Mahatma Gandhi, or Mother Theresa — or even the parent speaking up at a PTA meeting, the soup kitchen volunteer, or the manager driving a project to finish under budget. Taking decisive actions, and inspiring people to achieve, is the foundation of leadership. You can’t be a leader unless you choose to behave like one.
Learning to make the right choices as a leader takes, time, patience, and practice. But hundreds of coaching engagements over the course of Taft’s 35 years in communications has shown us that there’s a leader ready to be ignited inside us all.