Many leaders and entrepreneurs are sold on the idea that hard work and paying your dues will guarantee future success. Indeed, the idea of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is something we aspire to do.
On the subjects of leadership and success, Calvin Coolidge was credited with saying, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
Sure, perseverance and having grit have a great deal to do with being a successful leader. But that’s not all there is to it. Here are lessons other lessons that true leaders always keep in mind.
1. Clearly identify your purpose and rally around it.
Steve Jobs once said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
Indeed, successful leaders identify their passions and life goals and leverage them to create businesses, help people and make positive impacts on the world. By making their unique dreams and aspirations the framework around which their companies operate, leaders fulfill their missions in life without ever feeling like they are really working.
Though this seems like common sense, it may be difficult to discern what fields or interests you should pursue long-term. Dr. Susan Biali suggests starting the process by asking these three questions:
1. What do you love to do, that you would do even if you don’t get paid for it?
2. What do other people say you’re really good at?
3. What is the one thing you want to experience, or do, or accomplish, before you die, so that on your last day on earth you feel satisfied and have no regrets in that area?
2. Say no.
Warren Buffett once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” Cutting the fat from both your individual actions during the work day and long-term ventures will lead to more successful outcomes.
In a piece for the Harvard Business Review, Greg McKeown suggests, “Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Not just once a year as part of a planning meeting, but constantly reducing, focusing and simplifying. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well. Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.”
After taking stock of what is absolutely essential, prioritize and focus on tasks that only you can or should do. Delegate those that are urgent but do not need your full time and attention. And do not forget to take time off.
3. Listen rather than react.
The benefits to active listening are two-fold. First, it will help you get a better idea of what is really going on before making informed decisions. Former chairman of IBM Lou Gerstner partially attributed the success of the company at the turn of the century to listening. In his book Who Said Elephants Can’t Dance? Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround, he wrote, “For the first month, I listened, and I tried very hard not to draw conclusions.” This strategy led to IBM’s success, as he was responsible for increasing the company’s stock market value by 800%.
Second, simply listening instead of reacting will allow you to build effective working relationships that help your organization reach the next level. Deborah Tannen, author and professor of linguistics at Georgetown University said, “To say that a person feels listened to means a lot more than just their ideas get heard. It’s a sign of respect.”
Listening is one of the easiest ways to get good karma and establish positive relationships with everyone around you.
4. Inspire your supporters.
John Quincy Adams, son of Founding Father John Adams and himself a president, said “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” Indeed, one of the defining features of being a leader is the ability to excite and motivate other people.
Being inspirational does not mean giving out awards and bonuses every year and calling it a day. It is more about instilling continuous, long-term motivation and trust in your supporters, giving them a reason to get out of bed every morning. It is about firing up people and sparking their innate creativity and desire to innovate, even when they did not think they had the capacity. Making sure someone feels like their work is vital to achieving the company’s goals is one of the easiest ways to encourage your colleagues to be the best they can be.
5. Focus on EQ instead of IQ.
Before you can even think about inspiring your followers, you also need to be well-versed in emotional intelligence (EQ), a mix of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill. Having a high level of emotional intelligence is imperative to knowing how to empathize with, encourage and challenge your team members to reach their highest potential.
Daniel Coleman, a psychologist and journalist who was the first to associate emotional intelligence with leadership, found, “When I compared star performers with average ones in senior leadership positions, nearly 90 percent of the difference in their profiles was attributable to emotional intelligence factors rather than cognitive abilities.”
Travis Bradberry, another emotional intelligence researcher, identified a few easy ways to build up your EQ including being self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses, practicing self-confidence, letting go of mistakes, neutralizing toxic people and being compassionate.
6. Never stop learning.
Even if you are one of the top experts in your field, staying up-to-date about new developments by reading articles, magazines and reports will keep you at the top of your game. Also, joining professional associations and local clubs and going to their events could allow you to network with other ground-shakers, get caught up with the newest technology, and learn more about issues relevant to your field.