How to Become a Good Leader
Develop Leadership Qualities and Skills
The study of leadership and its characteristics is by no means an exact science. Today’s leaders come in all sizes and reflect a variety of demographics and dispositions. Whether young or old, short or tall, male or female, rich or poor, leaders are not limited to a specific personality type.
When discussing leadership and its many ingredients, it is essential to first understand that true leaders are not born, but made. Still, leaders find themselves being influenced and developed more by themselves and their character, than by outside influences and stimuli. While many of us attend workshops and seminars to help improve our quality of leadership, much of the time we receive only basic leadership skills and procedures, not character, vision, focus, passion and enthusiasm. Most successful leaders are made by sheer will, determination and development of character, not by seminars alone.
To begin the process of understanding leadership, we must first identify the basic ingredients of quality leadership. Upon close examination of successful leaders, both past and present, we can identify similarities in their character and being. The essential components of leadership include:
Vision. All leaders must embrace a vision that not only guides their every decision and direction, but gives them a clear idea of where they are going, what they need to do, and why they need to do it. Truly successful leaders have the ability to remain focused and true to their vision even under trying circumstances.
Integrity. Integrity is defined by a number of elements, including: honesty, trust, loyalty, candor, decisiveness and maturity. Successful leaders never lie to their associates or to themselves. Leaders must identify and acknowledge their strengths, assets, weaknesses, flaws and mistakes. By doing so, they may deal with them directly and swiftly. By possessing and demonstrating integrity and its many byproducts, leaders may find that integrity’s many benefits are contagious among their workforce.
Passion. Truly great leaders love what they do and, even more, love doing it. By demonstrating a high degree of passion, leaders will motivate, inspire and propel not only themselves, but those around them to excel and strive for excellence. In addition, true passion for what they are doing will give them the strength and will to pursue their vision and goals even when faced with failures and setbacks.
Courage. Great leaders are willing to take calculated risks. They look to experiment and try new ideas, methods, strategies and procedures. Daring leaders never rest on their laurels and are never satisfied with an average performance. True leaders are always looking to improve themselves and their organization. They strive to learn, train and educate themselves and their associates.
By learning from their successes, failures and even their competition, great leaders are constantly looking to the future.
Successful leadership skills
In addition to the internal characteristics that make up successful leaders, there are a number of traits and skills that can be learned to become a more efficient leader. These skills, when demonstrated every day, will assist leaders in improving the level of communication, motivation and loyalty within their workforce. The following is an example of just a few traits and skills that successful leaders strive to develop and enhance:
1) Recognition of superior performance and staff. Take time out to routinely recognize superior work and efforts by those employees who demonstrate it. Drop them a note, buy them lunch or think of another creative reward to tell your staff just how much they mean, and how much you appreciate their efforts.
2) Delegation of authority. Show confidence in your staff and foster creativity within your workplace by delegating responsibility and authority. By giving your staff and customers a chance to contribute and the freedom to cultivate their ideas, you, your staff and your organization will reap the rewards.
3) The ability to work and make decisions under pressure. Leaders must demonstrate calm, focus and determination when under pressure. Employees and staff look toward their leaders for guidance, assurance and direction when times are difficult. By keeping a clear head, successful leaders will demonstrate good judgment, while at the same time, reflect a feeling of “everything will be fine” to their employees.
4) Practice open and honest communication. It is essential that leaders be able to communicate their vision and direction to their employees. Leaders must operate under an open, honest and encouraging communications environment. It is vital to any organization that good communication flows from all levels of management and staff.
5) Demonstrate the desire to listen. Successful leaders understand the value of being good listeners. By possessing superior listening skills, leaders not only open themselves up to an infinite resource of quality people and ideas, they also can demonstrate their loyalty and level of concern for staff and colleagues.
By developing and practicing these and many other essential leadership skills, successful leaders can motivate staff, improve efficiency and effectiveness, and propel their organization to new heights of excellence.
Managers vs. leaders
Many times, we confuse the term manager with leader. While leaders and managers can sometimes be one in the same, managers often do not demonstrate the leadership and vision employees are seeking. Simple job titles or assignments do not guarantee superior leadership qualities and skills. There are a number of philosophical and practical differences between the manager and the leader. For example:
A manager develops and focuses on systems and procedures; the leader focuses on people and staff.
A manager maintains and administrates; the leader innovates and develops.
A manager relies on control and possesses a short range of view; the leader inspires trust and loyalty, and possesses a long-range vision.
A manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.
Manager and leader can, and should, be an interactive term. Today’s managers must possess a passion, commitment and long-term vision while operating in an open, honest and trusting environment. True leaders/managers foster high employee morale and use this team atmosphere to foster improved efficiency and effectiveness.
As discussed earlier, truly successful leaders are made, not born. Leaders are constantly evaluating and learning. While great leaders live and practice leadership traits and skills every day, they also strive to better know themselves and develop their character, will, vision and passion.
There are a number of steps you can take to develop and enhance your quality of leadership. While some of these steps can be done quickly, some will take serious reflection and time. One of the first and most important steps you can take to improve your quality of leadership is to strive to know yourself.
Successful leaders can identify their strengths, weaknesses and limitations. They also possess the knowledge of what they want to accomplish, why they want to accomplish it and how they intend to accomplish it. Leaders never lie to themselves and deal directly and swiftly with problems, concerns or mistakes they have made.
By truly and honestly evaluating and examining yourself, you will be able to improve and enhance your overall performance, leadership skills and character.
There are a number of additional steps you can take to develop and enhance your quality of leadership:
* Attempt to know as much as possible about your business or organization and its operations. By doing so, you will be able to contribute in more aspects of your operations.
* Be vocal — speak up and be heard. Help set the direction and tone of your operations. Also, remember to always listen carefully.
* Become dedicated to your vision and be totally committed to carrying it out.
* Master leadership traits and skills. By practicing these traits and skills every day, you will not only enhance your quality of leadership, but improve your business and employees’ efficiency and effectiveness.
* Finally, become more aware of current events and the world around you. There is a lot to learn from others. Look to other businesses, fields and even cultures for new ideas and services.
In conclusion, the quality of leadership demonstrated by today’s health and fitness professionals can, and does, have a dramatic influence on the success of health and fitness centers across the country.
By hiring, training and developing true leaders that not only have the self-knowledge and inner strength to lead and motivate, but practice the daily leadership traits and skills necessary for success, health and fitness centers can dramatically enhance the possibilities of their success and growth in the 1990s.
By Michael W. Haney
Bennis, W. On Becoming a Leader. Addison-Wesley Press, 1989.