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Becoming a Great Leader

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity but to elicit it, for the distinction is already there. - John Buchan

Leaders have different leadership styles, but they all need to learn how to deal with human nature. This is not such an easy task considering the diversity of human nature. Great leaders can understand and work with different attitudes and personalities. To be an effective leader, one must develop fine social skills to relate to various people. People skills are crucial in empowering people, which is a primary task in leadership.

The author has chosen two main factors to discuss empowerment. The first one, empathy, is crucial in setting up open communication lines among people in an organization. The second one, motivation, is important in getting a team to be productive.


A good leader must learn to empathize with the people they work with. Empathy is a person's ability to show concern and understanding of other people's perspectives. Empathy should not be confused with sympathy. When you are sympathetic with others, you identify with them to agree with the person’s actions and plans. Empathy is not agreeing with a person. Empathy is putting yourself in another person's position and understanding their thoughts and feelings.

Empathy does not mean agreeing with the person all the time. Empathy only entails understanding one person’s point of view, even without giving advice. An effective leader needs to show compassion towards other people. It is crucial in building trust and strengthening relationships among people.

Productivity increases when the people working together share a healthy relationship. Empathy allows leaders to dig deep into the root cause of deficient performance without being judgmental. By putting themselves in other people's shoes, they can make better changes in people's lives.

Empathy plays a huge role in empowering people. You do not have to agree with each viewpoint, but as a leader, you must let the people around you realize that you understand them and know where they are coming from. Do not let judgments at once cloud your thoughts when reaching out to people. Showing empathy takes time because it is not always easy to understand why people think and feel the way they do. By creating an environment where people feel that they can be comfortable expressing their opinions and thoughts, you can open yourself to empathic listening.

When talking to people, assure the speaker that they have your undivided attention. When people are about to confide in their problems, they feel more comfortable when they are assured of full engagement. Listen to the speaker with an open mind and heart. Resist the temptation to pass judgment. This can be difficult at first because biases are almost unavoidable. Still, the awareness that you have your preferences should help keep you from making judgments at once. Avoid constantly interrupting the speaker, even if you feel strongly about something. Do not be afraid of moments of silence. After the speaker has aired their thoughts, a short pause would allow them to make sense of the situation and produce their solution. While the speaker is talking, do not just listen to the words that come from the mouth. Make sense of the emotions attached to those words. More than the words, you should be able to respond to the speaker's feelings. Ask relevant and sensible questions to assure the speaker that you are interested and want to understand them. Often, the speaker will feel more at ease just by the mere effort and gesture.


Good leadership indeed entails superior motivational skills. Part of empowering people is to motivate them and get them moving. As a leader, knowing what motivates the people around you are essential. Motivation goes hand in hand with empathy. Each person has different aspirations, dreams, and interests. A good leader must tap into these to get each group member moving. People work for reasons – income, self-fulfillment, growth, etc.

The leader must try to talk to his team members individually to get to know each person's source or source of motivation. The common misconception of most leaders is that all group members are motivated by the same factors. Some members can share the same aspirations, but it does not always apply to everyone. Motivation can be very personal, making it difficult for inexperienced leaders to motivate each team member. When it comes to cause, there is no such thing as "one size fits all."

Inspiration comes from within, so leaders should keep effective communication lines with their members to decide what motivates each team member. The most common forms of motivation come from oneself, otherwise known as internal motivation. External factors motivate a person, but these factors must also be harmonized with internal motivational factors. The most common cause in an office organization is salary, but good leaders know that something more profound than money motivates people. For example, why are people looking forward to earning money? Do they have a family to support? Are they saving up to go to school? These motivations are something that a leader can explore when they dialogue personally with the team members. People are motivated when they set personal goals aside from the plan that should be achieved in the organization.

Human beings are not static. They thrive in constant challenges and stimulation. People should be given tasks that increasingly get difficult but stay attainable. Their duties should make them feel proud of themselves for having conquered challenges, whether they are small or big. Their jobs should be challenging but possible. Make sure to give them constant feedback on their performance to provide them with a sense of fulfillment and a glimpse of their performance. One of the most accessible sources of motivation is praise and recognition. People are more energized to work when their achievements and efforts are recognized. However, be careful with credit. Acknowledge one person's accomplishments but do not do it in a way that will spark envy and unhealthy competition among colleagues.

Regarding challenges, another source of motivation for people is a task that quenches their thirst for knowledge. People need to be exposed to an environment where their curiosity is satisfied. Make their working environment more enjoyable to arouse interest and encourage learning.

A leader must constantly figure out what motivates the team members, as a group and as individuals. Good leaders do not just bluntly ask their members what motivates them because not all people realize them right away. Instead, good leaders should explore each value. This gives you a more personal glimpse into their lives, making it easier to dig into what motivates them.

Allow each team member to set their own goals, occasionally reminding them to design their plans according to the organization's collective purpose. This will give them a sense of control over their lives, which is a highly motivational factor for people. Allowing them to set their own goals will provide them with a closer look at how their actions will affect

their own goals.

You can also use group work or teamwork as motivational factors. These are effective for people who like to work in groups. This will enhance cooperation and relationships in the team. The collaboration will get more things done and strengthen relationships among members. Also, people are more likely to be motivated when they know that their actions will affect the welfare of other people.

Good leaders also know how to ease a competitive environment to motivate people. This tactic is used in almost any kind of organization. A healthy competition will increase productivity because winning a competition gives a person a sense of accomplishment. Influential leaders will learn how to use a match to motivate all team members. As much as possible, leaders should encourage each member to compete against their performance (even if competing with others). Leaders should also ensure that the competition is worth joining, even in the face of defeat. Leaders should be careful not to engage the team in a power struggle where each member becomes manipulative of others to win a competition.

As mentioned earlier, different people have different motivations. For instance, some people are motivated by competition, while others do not work well under pressure. Therefore, you must cultivate a personal relationship with each employee to evaluate various factors that might motivate them. It could be a haphazard process, but eventually, you will find each person's motivation. Keep communication lines open, so you know how each individual responds to motivational factors. Get feedback regularly and see if the members of your team are motivated.

It is also essential to watch your members to check if they are showing signs of de-motivation. Clear the office space of any de-motivational factors as much as possible. Keep a healthy relationship between you and your members. It would help if you pleurodire that the members sustain harmonious relationships. People are more productive when they have good relationships with their leaders and colleagues. Finally, ensure that the collective and individual goals are met.

In conclusion, leadership and empowering people are about understanding their deepest desires and helping them set goals aligned with the organization's collective goals. Leader needs to assure their members that they belong to an organization where even their personal goals and aspirations are highly valued.

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