I’ve long said that I believe we’re all leaders.
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, what you do, or what you don’t do—you make decisions that influence other people, and that’s the only qualification for being a leader.
Of course, that’s not all it takes to be a great leader. And if we’re all leaders anyway, we might as well work on being great ones, right?
The trick is knowing where to start. It’s rare to find leadership advice—and there’s lots of it out there—that applies just as much to a stay-at-home parent as it does to a business executive.
But there’s one guiding principle I’ve found that can serve as your foundation whether you’re a leader at home, a leader in your community, or a leader at work.
To become a great leader, don’t focus on becoming “a great leader.” Instead, focus on becoming someone worth following.
It’s a subtle difference, but when you think about effective leadership this way, you’ll begin to see it in a new light.
Now, what exactly makes someone worth following? It boils down to three key qualities.
The 3 Qualities of Someone Worth Following
1. They are truly transparent
Transparency is a hot term in the business world right now. Companies trying to build a great culture love to talk about how transparent they are, and how much they include their employees in major company decisions.
Unfortunately for them, transparency is about so much more than just giving the people you’re leading a behind-the-scenes look at the decisions you’re making.
Being transparent also means that you always take ownership of your mistakes and shortcomings in front of the people you’re leading. You don’t pretend to be perfect and you admit when you’re wrong.
But the best leaders take this even further.
They know the difference between a mistake and a bad choice—and how to handle each one appropriately.
A mistake is something that was accidentally done, but with good intentions. A bad choice is something that was purposely done.
Being late to pick up your kids from school because you thought they got out at 3:30 instead of 3:00 is a mistake. Being late to pick up your kids from school because you got too busy with a project is a choice.
Great leaders know how to handle the consequences of both in an effective way (displaying transparency) that builds their followers’ loyalty even more.
This doesn’t make them weak, it makes them human.
If people understand your thinking and see that you are human, they will want to follow you.
2. They know how to get back on track
Leaders, of course, aren’t the only ones who make mistakes and poor choices—followers do, too.
And when they do, great leaders know how to get them—and other followers who may have been negatively affected by the mistake or choice—back on track.
They display a heightened awareness of where the track is and where it’s going, so they can shift perspective back to the big picture when things go wrong.
They remain calm in the face of confusion and crisis. Since they’ve already set the tone with their own transparency, followers feel safe coming to them with their own mistakes and bad choices.
This is someone people love to follow.
3. They take advantage of teachable moments
To maintain their leadership and help people grow with them, great leaders take advantage of opportunities to teach.
Nothing has taught me more about this key to leadership than parenting.
Recently, I was grouchy and raised my voice at the kids. Even though they were doing something that needed correction, raising my voice was an inappropriate way to handle the situation. It helped nothing.
To maintain transparency, I needed to acknowledge the bad choice I’d made and ask forgiveness. (It’s the only way to effectively handle a bad choice. An apology is all that is needed when a mistake has been made.) The easy thing to do would have been to wait until later. Waiting, however, would have squandered the best teaching opportunity—right there, in that moment, when my boys had just experienced my bad behavior and it was fresh in their minds.
So I calmed myself down and used the opportunity to grow with them. I let them know how stressed I was, but that stress was no excuse for how inappropriately I had acted. I used my behavior, which was still fresh in their minds, as an example of what not to do. And I pushed the “relationship reset button” that only asking forgiveness can provide in that situation.
The most valuable teachable moments rarely occur at convenient times. Usually they involve stopping what you’re doing, checking your emotions, and taking a sharp detour. That’s why most people let them slip by.
Great leaders seize teachable moments, even when they’re inconvenient and uncomfortable.
Who Stands to Gain from Effective Leadership?
It’s easy to focus inwardly when thinking about effective leadership. What do I need to do to become a better leader? How do I need to change? Who do I have to become?
These are questions worth asking, and we’ve even focused on them a bit in this post. They’re valuable.
But they can also feel a little overwhelming at times. When that happens, I’d encourage you to shift from that inward focus to an outward focus. Ask yourself:
Who stands to gain from my improved leadership? How will my leadership help those following me? How would a steady, calm presence of leadership make those around me become more effective?
Picture those people in your mind’s eye—your family members, your co-workers, your employees, or whomever else you might be leading. They will give you all the motivation you need to become someone worth following.
Question: We’ve all known leaders we loved following. Picture one of those leaders now from your own life. What did they do that made you want to follow them? Leave a comment below and let me know!