You only have to read open a history book to see that successful leaders leave an indelible mark. Some of the world’s greatest leaders had such an impact on the future that we still look to them today for leadership lessons. Over the centuries, patterns emerge, similarities that business executives can seek out within themselves and nurture to achieve outstanding success in their own realms of expertise. You don’t have to forge an empire to learn a thing or two from historical perspectives; you just need to spotlight these leadership traits.
The most effective leaders have a vivid vision of what they want to accomplish and keep it firmly in mind as they make decisions. They may put in 60-hour work weeks, assemble a diverse team of motivated personnel, and make surprising strategic decisions, but they never do it blindly; they have a fixed destination in mind. This quality is what distinguishes leaders from managers. A well-defined vision that others can believe in too allows leaders to attract other visionary professionals to work with them and accomplish much more than any of them could alone.
When we think of courage, we might conjure images of battlefield heroics or explorations of uncharted lands. Courage can also mean exploration of novel ideas – think of having the courage of your convictions, and you’ll be closer to what a great CEO or business founder must have to succeed at the highest levels. Leaders try new strategies and find new ways to the top of the mountain. They don’t fear failure or succumb to social pressures that limit their scope and vision. Courage isn’t quite the same thing as fearlessness, though, and many would-be business leaders fail to protect their organizations from risk. Leaders accept the risk inherent in innovation even as they try to minimize it.
To keep himself grounded, Julius Caesar rode in his triumphal processions with a companion who whispered, “Remember, you are mortal.” Forget about leaders who demand that others bend the knee to them; effective leaders don’t have to have sycophants, instead surrounding themselves with strong advisors who aren’t afraid to tell them what they need to hear – not just what they want to hear. Effective leaders have enough humility to acknowledge mistakes and correct course when needed. Contrast this with the boss manager who rides herd on his or her personnel, believing they must follow orders and show respect. Humility is a central characteristic of leaders who are self-confident and self-aware enough to realize the value of other people without viewing them or their ideas as a threat.
Great leaders may not have been universally loved, but the people they led revered them. If people don’t like working for you, daily work operations suffer. Your vision is put on hold while you deal with high turnover, and at the end of it all, you may wind up with a team of people who tolerate you instead of choosing to follow you if you aren’t able to forge cooperative bonds with your personnel. Successful leaders inspire cooperation and collaboration both among their staff and with those in leadership positions.
While not all strategists can become effective leaders, all effective leaders need a strategic mindset. They have a big-picture view that sees how every element of the organization works together and how it serves the guiding inspiration that every leader has in mind when embarking on a new enterprise. Strategic leaders anticipate new market trends well before competitors can see it and are able to adjust course accordingly, avoiding economic storms and capitalizing on new opportunities.
Every business leader has these traits in some form, but not every one of them will consciously hone them as skills. Find the great leader in you and nurture those traits; you’ll see your efforts pay off.