Leadership is often seen as a mystical quality you are either born with or not. But is there really such a thing as a natural born leader? Do human genes really have the final say on your leadership success? Is it just a DNA leadership lottery and game over for the rest of us?
Dan Andersson, CEO of Learning Enterprises Organisation Ltd (LEO), a global entrepreneurship training company, and a leadership instructor, believes not and offers some enlightening tips on how to become a top leader.
As a lifelong entrepreneur and business leader, Dan has learnt a thing or two about how to be an effective leader, and now runs a highly successful business and shares this knowledge at seminars and in online training courses. He says: ‘In my experience the ability to be a leader is not something you’re born with, it’s a skill to acquire, the same as any other. You are not born with the leadership gene, you are born with the ability to learn’. So, here are his tried and tested tips on how to become a truly successful leader:
- First, be a follower
There is no faster track to becoming a great leader yourself, than to first follow the guidance of a successful leader – so find yourself a mentor. If you’re lucky enough to follow a great leader, you can acquire and assimilate their traits, knowledge and skills, that give you a head start in the leadership stakes. However, choose them wisely, as really great mentoring can be life-changing and will help you avoid the pitfalls that could slow you down or scupper your leadership chances. Learning from the experience of such an expert is free, and can be priceless, while the connections they can provide will set you on the path to success. In fact, just being a follower for a while can make you a better leader, helping you to learn what your followers will be looking for in you. Learning to be a good follower, can also teach you humility, a trait which will serve you well as a leader.
- Tell it like it is
The importance of integrity, honesty and truth to a leader cannot be understated. We’ve all sat in meetings where we’ve been fed thinly veiled propaganda which most see through. This will not win you friends or influence people. Only telling the truth will earn you respect, and as a leader, this is invaluable if you want others to follow you. Integrity is more important than any other thing in the leadership game. If you are the sort of person who can engage your people by talking about the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you will find that you have followers who will come with you and start to look to you for guidance because they know you are a person who tells it like it is. Leadership is therefore much more about telling the truth than of making up stories to motivate people – so ditch the propaganda and keep it real!
- Walk the talk
Leadership is not for the faint-hearted – if you want to be an effective leader, you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves, put in the hard graft and lead by example. You need to be prepared to walk the talk, to set the expected standard and provide the strong direction your followers need – as the saying goes: ‘actions speak louder than words’. Leadership is all about setting the direction to be taken. It is about staking the flag in the ground and saying: ‘here is where we are going’. Indeed, if you want to lead a team who are motivated and care about what they’re doing, you first have to have a strong vision of what you want to achieve and let your passion for what you do shine through – such enthusiasm is infectious and will inspire others to follow you. Of course, a magnetic personality also comes in handy, but genetics need play no part in this either, as even the elusive quality of ‘charisma’, which great leaders are said to have in spades, can be learnt, and is often just the result of confidence and knowledge.
- It’s all about people!
Leadership and indeed business is all about people. To be a good leader, you need to remember that your success will always depend on your relationships with other people – your customers, team members and business partners. So, be sure to treat your team well, be supportive and provide training where needed, and nurture good relations with your customers too – above all, be nice to people! If you build a good reputation, people will want to work with you, follow you and do business with you. A leader who treats people with consideration and kindness, will in turn inspire loyalty and respect from others. In addition, to fully embrace the power that people have to make or break your leadership success, you would be wise to perfect the art of networking – speaking to as many people as possible will create invaluable opportunities and connections. In fact, such is the importance of networking, that in terms of business and leadership success, I would go as far as saying: ‘Network or die’!
- Never stop learning
‘Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.’
John F. Kennedy
Finally, if you want to be the best leader you can be, you must never stop learning. Building and maintaining your skillset is an essential part of being a successful leader – if you want people to follow you, you must be good at what you do. Constantly improving your competence and skillset will not only improve your chances of business success, but will attract the best people to follow you, which will help build your business. In today’s information-driven world, the skills you learn can soon become outdated, and to excel as a leader it is essential that you keep ahead of the crowd. Becoming complacent once you have achieved some success can be fatal to your future, so signing up for relevant courses, such as flexible online training, which can easily fit around your hectic schedule, gives you the edge in the highly competitive business world. Indeed, the importance of ongoing learning, not merely innate ability, has long been recognised by those who have achieved greatness – as John F. Kennedy said: ‘Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other’.