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7 Laws of Leadership

I have read and written a great deal about leadership and being a boss in a corporate setting, and am a big fan of the development of leadership skills in a person’s life. No, not everyone will be a leader all the time, but when you do lead, great leadership makes ordinary people into extraordinary people. So, what is it about leadership that is so important and what are the characteristics that make a great leader? As Orrin Woodward once said, “The only thing tougher than developing leadership skills is attempting to be successful without them.”

In that vein, there are seven critical characteristics that make great leaders stand out from other people. What is amazing is that there is nothing super human about them, and any one of us can hone these skills if we do a little practicing every day. Yes, leadership is in all of us if we just put a little effort into it.

Optimistically Realistic

Napoleon Bonaparte once stated that a leader is a dealer in hope. To take it a bit further, “There is nothing more inspiring and stimulating than being in the company of optimists. It is the core of true leadership,” as James Joyce says. Still, a major challenge with being a leader is the ability to balance being a “cheerleader” with being a pragmatist. So, if you are too much of a optimist and something bad happens, you might have to tendency to sit back and say, “do not worry, everything will work out.” Of course, a pessimist will throw up their hands and complain about the situation or blame other people or external forces at work. But a optimistically realist will get others to believe that whatever action they do, it will move them closer to their goals. Essentially, they put things in motion and are people of action. To sum it up, “Leadership conceives and articulates goals that lift people out of their petty preoccupations and unite them in pursuit of objectives worthy of their best efforts,” as quoted by John Gardner.

Walk the Talk

“Anything that costs you your integrity is too expensive,” and this goes especially true for great leaders. People might listen to what you say, but the always are looking a what you do as a leader. It is through actions that great leaders develop trust and inspire admiration. You see many leaders say that integrity is important to them, but great leaders walk their talk by demonstrating integrity every day. Extolling the virtue of something does not mean you possess it; just as harping about the behavior you want to see in people has little impact. What does have an impact is you, as a leader, acting in a way that others will mimic. As Max DePree says, “Leadership is much more an art, a belief, a condition of the heart, than a set of things to do. The visible signs of artful leadership are expressed, ultimately, in its practice.”

Confidently Defiant

As I like to say, “Confidence is armor you cannot buy.” We naturally gravitate to people who are confident because confidence is contagious, and it helps us to believe that there are great things are in store in the future. The trick, as a leader, is to make certain your confidence does not denigrate into arrogance and cockiness. Confidence is about passion and belief in your ability to make things happen. It is not about idly boasting about your skills or abilities. When your confidence loses touch with reality, you begin to think you can do things you cannot and start to believe that you have done things that you have not. Suddenly it becomes all about you. This arrogance makes you lose credibility, integrity, and most importantly, loyalty.

The secret sauce is that confident leaders are still humble. They do not allow their accomplishments and position of authority to make them feel that they are superior or better than anyone else. As such, they do not hesitate to jump in and do the dirty work that is needed to be done, and they do not ask their followers to do anything they are not willing to do themselves.

Kind Hearted

One of the toughest things for leaders to master is the soft touch of being kind hearted. Great leaders understand that kindness is about sharing credit and offering enthusiastic praise for people’s work, effort and success. It’s a balancing act, between being genuinely kind and not looking weak. The real hard part is finding that balance between recognizing that being kind is really about trusting yourself and actually being strong. It is about keeping your integrity and always being direct and straightforward with everyone you interact with. Telling people the difficult truth they need to hear is much kinder than protecting them (or yourself) from a difficult conversation. It is about facing reality head on, not dodging it to do the easy stuff.

True kindness also does not come with expectations of reciprocation. Being kind is a weakness when you use it in a self-serving manner. Self-serving kindness is thin and week, and people will be able to see right through it when a kind leader has an agenda. Think of those leaders who gave without any benefits to themselves, but only thinking of other people. Now, that is true kindness and leadership.

Fluidly Strong

While strength is important in a leader, how great leaders use strength is what sets them apart. “As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong,” as so well observed by Lao Tzu. Loyalty is derived directly from whether a leader demonstrates the ability to be strong, to make the difficult decision and can care for those in his or her charge. People want a leader who will stay the course, but make a change when it is called for.

Emerson once stated, “Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” A great leader will not make the mistake of domineering, controlling, and doing otherwise harsh behavior for strength. People do not want to ruled by force, but coerced by strength. They will follow and trust a leader that demonstrates strength time and time again in the face of adversity.

Self Sacrificing

Lao Tzu once said, “In wishing to be above men, put yourself by words below them, and, wishing to be before them, place yourself behind them.” What this means is that to be a great leader, you must first be a servant. The best leaders will do anything for their teams, and in doing so, they will have their teams support no matter what. Great leaders know that They take a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” They do not shift blame, and they own up when they fail. They know where the buck stops, and keep that target on themselves no matter what. Great leaders also make it clear that they welcome challenges, criticism, and viewpoints other than their own. They know that the best teams work in an environment where people are not afraid to speak up, offer insights, and ask good questions.

Love, Actually

Great leaders know it is about giving, not taking, and that includes love. Love is about giving freedom and power, not about gaining possession and control. Great leaders really love people, not just the work those people are doing for them. And by people, not just the people close to them or who work for them, but anyone they meet. They understand that love is about giving others respect and authority, and not about hording power and information.

And in order to love others, great leaders understand that you cannot give what you do not possess. They take time to develop the self-love that is necessary to be a giving person. In addition, they have also mastered the art of life and living as stated by James Michener in his quote, “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he's always doing both.” A great leader makes other leaders, and shows them that in the end, it really is all about love.

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