Follow the Leader: Key Elements in Being (or Becoming) a Natural-Born Leader
By: Mira Tosheva
Some leaders inspire with their presence, others with their absence.
Some people are born leaders. That’s just the way it is. They’re charismatic and they dive easily into the leading process. They’re honest and confident in their interactions. With them, it’s easy to discuss an agenda, idea, to set a goal, and then to make a plan on how to achieve it. Their passion for what they do inspires others and people genuinely feel good around them. Others are great at what they do. They’re masters on the work field and extremely capable, but once they become a leader, they can’t perform like a natural-born leader can. That’s why I believe that, in order to be a good leader, it requires not only those skills that can be gained through workshops, books, and educational programs, but also some interpersonal skills without which the abilities to improve the work of the team will decrease.
I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been the one taking instructions and the one giving them. At those times when I was the one giving instructions, there was always someone above me, guiding me throughout the process. Some things in the leading process came naturally to me; others had to be learned. The first thing that I learned was that in order to lead to the best of my abilities, I had to leave my ego at the doorstep of the office and take every single constructive criticism as another step toward my goal to be someone people would like to be lead by. I feel extremely lucky for having the chance to work with people who didn’t always agree with me and through discussions, tried to bring out the best of my thinking and work. You can spend a lot of time researching what leadership is about and you will find tons of different stories. But in its essence, leadership is just a constructive bond between people who are working together. It’s as simple as that and yet sometimes hard to achieve.
Leadership is about personality and trust.
In every job that requires interacting with people, empathy is the key to successful communication. I honestly don’t believe that someone who lacks empathy can be a good leader. Empathy in a working environment is about understanding people’s visions and ideas, and being able to discuss different opinions without getting frustrated by the fact that a team member has a different perspective than you. Team members are the essential part of the leader’s job and their opinions can be assets, if the leader is not blinded by his or her leading role and doesn’t act as though nothing can be better than his or her personal vision. It doesn’t mean that the leader shouldn’t have a vision or a strategy that needs to be followed; it simply means that the leadership will be more successful if team members have the chance to feel like a real part of the working process by sharing opinions. People should feel free to share different visions and to make suggestions regarding particular tasks in order to achieve better results.
Another part of implementing empathy in a working environment is acknowledging the human factor. One thing that can be really frustrating for people is when they don’t feel that their efforts are appreciated. Of course, each person will have their own way in which they’d like to be appreciated, but even with some appreciation from the team leader, workers generally feel motivated to do their best. People need and want to be “seen,” to be validated. This isn’t something extraordinary, because, in our daily life, we most likely enjoy being appreciated and validated. So, why it should be different when it comes to a team member? What also happens when a team leader acknowledges and appreciates the efforts and ideas of team members is that it builds trust between them. Team members view the team leader as another human being who sees them too, and of course, most people would prefer to be led by someone who they can trust: rust in the leader’s decision making skills and trust that they can express themselves, even when their point of view differs. A great leader is someone who people want to follow and no one follows someone they don’t trust.
Leadership is about creativity.
No leader can be successful at what she is doing if creative methods of working aren’t implemented. Creative methods are those in which people feel engaged in the whole process, without feeling the constant burden of achieving a result. Although a goal must be set, creative working methods allow team members to view it as a challenge that depends on them. And because it’s part of our human nature to pull ourselves together when something depends on us, it’s motivating and boosts confidence for the team members that they’re capable and good enough to deal with a certain task. Creative methods of leading may challenge team members to bring out the best in themselves, but most of the time, it’ll encourage them to use their own creativity in dealing with day-to-day tasks. Every person has strengths and weaknesses. Great leaders will find those individuals whose particular strengths will help the project achieve success. Giving personal tasks is a good and resourceful way to use what you have found in each member of the team.
The problem with superiority
Once someone becomes a leader, it’s quite easy to start taking one’s self too seriously and distance yourself from the people you’re supposed to lead. By doing so, this allows to new leader to test the boundaries of their authority, but in the end, this will hinder your team’s performance level. And since the job of the leader depends on the performance of the team members, superiority should be used very carefully. I consider superiority in the working environment to be more of a great responsibility than a privilege. A leader is still very much part of a team and as such, distancing one’s self from the team members won’t allow him to create a successful bond with them. A successful bond can be created only by interacting with people the right way--through good interpersonal skills, trust, and creativity.
Working with people can be pretty challenging, and therefore, confusing at times. So no matter if you’re already a leader or about to become one, keep in mind that result-orientated doesn’t mean superior-and-distant-to-others. While you are evaluating your team’s performance, they will be evaluating your personality, so make sure that you’re showing them your human side while you lead them toward success.