Real Leaders

9 Practices All Great Leaders Share

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We often use the term leader to refer to the individual who heads up a team or organization. But leadership is more about a set of skills and practices than it is a position. Great leaders influence how people think and feel to the point that they take responsible and decisive action.

Most leaders are made, not born. What they pick up along the way is wisdom and experience, and they never back down from learning and adapting when they are amidst something new.

Great Leaders Share These Nine Practices. So Can You.

Great leaders are “students of people” and learn early in their careers that helping others succeed opens opportunities that would never otherwise exist.

1. Listen with intent.

Listening is one of the most important skills to build credibility and relationships. Listen with intent. Clear your head. Don’t plan your answers in advance. Restate what someone describes to make sure you understand. Good listening skills never go away, no matter where you go or what you do. People want to know you’ve listened – that they’ve been heard and their opinion counts.

Replay one interaction you’ve had this week. On a scale of 1-10, how good a listener were you?

2. Ask probing questions.

Listening opens the door to better understanding. Getting below the surface of a conversation takes probing questions and examples. Sometimes a simple “tell me more about that” is all that’s needed.

Try it out tomorrow.

3. Study people.

Understand what’s important to them. Avoid judging, knowing it isn’t easy to do.

Think of a recent situation when someone reacted in a way that you didn’t expect. How could you find out more about their reaction?

4. Share observations about the broader horizon with your team, colleagues, and senior leaders.

What are today’s trends and patterns that could impact tomorrow?

Plan a one topic meeting with your team: Trends and how they could impact the organization.

5. Look for opportunities to engage in a dialogue.

Most often conversations at work are about work situations or resolving problems. Sometimes people will reach out for feedback. Engaging in a dialogue, however, is a willingness to go deeper. Digging for details and examples by using “how” and “why” questions elicits emotional reactions, touching the nerves for what people need and want. Over time, dialogues create a level of trust and respect that daily conversations don’t achieve.

  • Think about one person to have a deeper discussion with to get their perspective on a situation or project.
  • Design 3-4 open-ended questions to discuss. They talk, you listen.
  • You’re not solving a problem. You’re looking to learn more about them. Ask for examples.

6. Practice translating a project or concept into the language of the audience.

Think about an upcoming meeting where you’re presenting. Who is the audience? How much do they understand what you’re working on? How much do they know about the concepts? Get input. Prepare to give details or the big picture overview, depending on who you’re talking to.

Talk with someone in advance who will attend. Afterward, ask for their feedback.

7. Translate vision into individualized responsibilities for your team members.

Great leaders will not leave a new direction or strategy in vague terms for individuals to figure out on their own. People want specifics. Work with them. Figure out the details. At your next one-on-one meeting with a team member, get their perspective on: Are they spending time working on the right assignments with the right people? How have their priorities changed?

Make clarity the issue, not judgement.

8. Trust that your success is based on your ability to create the conditions for others to succeed.

It’s not about you. You are not the center of the universe. Ask for feedback from your team on how things are going. Listen.

Ask yourself, “What do I need to do more of or less of to make the team successful?”

9. Focus on impact and meaning.

Great leaders believe personal success and career success overlap. Take a few minutes each week to write if you’re working on making a difference or just doing the work. I’m serious.

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