Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand. – General Colin Powell
“The miracle power that elevates the few is to be found in their industry, application, and perseverance, under the promptings of a brave, determined spirit.” – Mark Twain.
Motivational experts like to say that leaders are made, not born. I would argue the exact opposite. We are all natural-born leaders but have been deprogrammed along the way. As children, we were natural leaders – curious and humble, always hungry and thirsty for knowledge, with an incredibly vivid imagination; we knew exactly what we wanted, were persistent and determined in getting what we wanted, and could motivate, inspire, and influence everyone around us to help us in conducting our mission. So why is this so difficult to do as adults? What happened?
As children, over time, to hear, no, do not, and cannot. No! Do not do this. Do not do that. You cannot do this. You cannot do that. No! Our parents told us to keep quiet and not disturb the adults by asking silly questions. This pattern continued into high school, with our teachers telling us what we could and could not do and what was possible. Then with the extensive institutionalized formal education known as college or university, we have grand plans as young adults. Unfortunately, the traditional educational system does not teach students how to become leaders; it teaches students how to become polite order takers for the corporate world. Instead of learning to become creative, independent, self-reliant, and think for themselves, most people learn how to obey and intelligently follow the rules to keep the corporate machine humming.
Developing the Leader in you to live your highest life requires unlearning by self-remembering and self-honoring. Being an effective leader again will need you to be brave and unlock the door to your inner attic, where your childhood dreams lie, going inside to the heart. Based on my over ten years of research on human leadership, management, and leadership, here are ten effortless steps to awaken the Leader in you and rekindle your passion for greatness.
1. Humility. Leadership starts with humility. To be a phenomenally successful leader, you must first humble yourself like a little child and be willing to serve others. Nobody wants to follow someone arrogant. Be humble as a child, always curious, always hungry, and thirsty for knowledge. For what is excellence but knowledge plus knowledge – always wanting to better yourself, continually improving, constantly growing. When you are humble, you become genuinely interested in people because you want to learn from them. And because you want to learn and grow, you will be a far more effective listener, which is the #1 leadership communication tool. When people sense you are genuinely interested in and listening to them, they will naturally be interested in you and listen to what you have to say.
2. SWOT Yourself. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Although it is a strategic management tool taught at Stanford and Harvard Business Schools and used by large multinationals, it can just as effectively be used in your professional development as a leader. This is valuable critical access to self-knowledge, self-remembering, and self-honoring. Start by listing all your Strengths, including your accomplishments. Then write down all your Weaknesses and what needs to be improved. Make sure to include any doubts, anxieties, and worries you may have. These are the demons and dragons guarding the door to your inner attic. By bringing them to conscious awareness, you can begin to slay them. Then go ahead by listing all the Opportunities you see available to you for using your strengths. Finally, write down all the Threats or obstacles currently blocking you or that you think you will meet along the way to achieving your dreams.
3. Follow Your Bliss. Regardless of how busy you are, always take the time to do what you love doing. Being an alive and vital person vitalizes others. People around you cannot help but feel impassioned by your presence while pursuing your passions. This will make you a charismatic leader. Whatever you enjoy doing, be it writing, acting, painting, drawing, photography, sports, reading, dancing, networking, or working on entrepreneurial ventures, set aside time every week, ideally two or three hours a day, to pursue these activities. You will find the time. If you were to videotape yourself for a day, you would be shocked to see how much time goes to waste!
4. Dream Big. If you want to be larger than life, you need a dream that’s larger than life. Small goals will not serve you or anyone else. It takes more time to dream small than it does to dream big. So be Big and be Bold! Write down your One Biggest Dream. The one that excites you the most. Remember, do not be small and realistic; be bold and unrealistic! Go for the Gold, the Pulitzer, the Nobel, the Oscar, the highest you can achieve in your field. After writing down your dream, list every reason you CAN achieve your goal instead of worrying about why you cannot.
5. Vision. Without a vision, we perish. If you cannot see yourself winning that award and feel the tears of triumph streaming down your face, you will unlikely be able to lead yourself or others to victory. Visualize what it would be like to conduct your dream. See, smell, taste, and feel it in your gut.
6. Perseverance. Victory belongs to those who want it the most and stay in it the longest. Now that you have a dream, make sure you take consistent action every day. I recommend doing five daily things to move you closer to your goal.
7. Honor Your Word. Every time you break your word, you lose power. Successful leaders keep their word and their promises. You can accumulate all the toys and riches in the world, but you only have one reputation in life. Your word is gold. Honor it.
8. Get a Mentor. Find yourself a mentor. Preferably someone who has already achieved a high degree of success in your field. Do not be afraid to ask. You have nothing to lose. In addition to mentors, take time to study autobiographies of great leaders you admire. Learn everything from their lives and model some of their successful behaviors.
9. Be Yourself. Use your relationships with mentors and your research on great leaders as models or reference points to work from, but never copy or imitate them like a parrot. Everyone has vastly different leadership styles. History books are filled with soft-spoken, introverted, and quiet leaders, all the way to the other extreme of being outspoken, extroverted, loud, and everything in between. A peaceful, simple Gandhi or a soft-spoken peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter, who became president of the United States and won a Nobel Peace Prize, have been just as effective world leaders as a loud and flashy Churchill, or the authoritarian leadership style employed by The Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. I admire Hemingway as a writer. But if I copy Hemingway, at best, I would be a second- or third-rate Hemingway instead of a first-rate McDonald. Be yourself, your best self, always competing against yourself and bettering yourself, and you will become a first-rate YOU instead of a second-rate somebody else.
10. Give. Finally, be a giver. Leaders are givers. By giving, you activate a universal law as sound as gravity life gives to the giver and takes from the taker. The more you give, the more you get. If you want more love, respect, support, and compassion, supply care, offer help, and show understanding. Be a mentor to others. Give back to your community. As a leader, the only way to get what you want is by helping enough people get what they want first. Sir Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”