Layne McDonald, Ph.D.
An essential part of success in life is the ability to lead. We must be able to teach others and be willing to show ourselves. No one succeeds in life by simply following others. Sometimes we must strike a bold new path for ourselves.
A good leader is more than simply being at the forefront of the crowd. A leader must act. Too often in America, we accept that someone looks or sounds like a leader, and too rarely do we look at the actions that a leader performs — which is the actual test of leadership.
However, to become good leaders, we must concentrate on actions rather than superficial appearances. The title of this article refers to eight steps, but do not think of these as progressive steps like so many recipes or instruction manuals describe. Instead, think of these as actions that you must take regularly.
First, be alert to new potentials. “Reality” is not absolute but subject to constant change. Think about inventors, explorers, and agents of social change who have achieved greatness. Some might say that certain people are successful because they are lucky to be in the right place at the right time. So, if they had not had their eyes open for the opportunity, it would not have mattered if they were in the right place.
Second, accept inspiration from wherever it comes, even your opponents. The wisest leaders constantly study their competition. We always see examples of this research and surveillance in war, politics, and business—too often, many concentrates on finding a weakness to exploit through a specific study. If you want to be a leader of positive change, do not fall victim to this trend. Instead, if you find a defect, avoid that pitfall yourself. If you find the strength, find a way to strengthen your qualities to match.
Third, learn something new and promote in new ways every day. This means you must continually seek to expand your horizons, internally and externally. Feed your mind with new lessons and knowledge, but constantly expand your social horizons. Seek out and meet new people and immerse yourself in new social situations. You never know when these new experiences will help you in your leadership role.
Fourth, search for and find answers in subtle clues. Look beneath the surface and constantly question. This extends the third step in that you seek new knowledge. But this also means you will need to step off the traditional paths of wisdom. Do not simply read books in the literary canon or the bestsellers list. Take seminars rather than classes as there is more room for questioning and debate. Seek out the unconventional thinkers, teachers, and writers.
Fifth, improvise if no existing solutions are available. No excuses. Necessity is the mother of invention. How do you know it will not work if you have never tried it? Remember, not all approaches need to come from the front. Look at your problem from all sides and systematically attempt different solutions.
Six, make at least one person you care about happy every day. If you make it a point to be thoughtful and caring for one person every day, this caring behavior will soon become a habit, and that habit will spread to the others around you. Making someone else happy also feeds your happiness. Imagine how better the world would be if we all did a little more to spread joy.
Seven, offer help, even if there is no apparent advantage to you. This means more than writing a check. It means giving of your time and energy and yourself. Sometimes it will mean helping someone you do not know, and sometimes, it can be a very personal action.
Finally, never let negativity be your last word on the subject. Suppose your final comments are negative, no matter how hopeful you may be about the potential of a project or action. In that case, the impression you give to others is one of negativity.
Accentuate the positive, and you will see a positive outcome.
If you follow these eight action steps, you will be a better leader and lead yourself to a more successful life.