Leadership isn’t something that happens – it’s a skill set you cultivate and develop. You don’t have to be in a position of power to lead. Great leadership happens at all levels of life and with all kinds of people.
You also don’t have to be born a leader. Very few people are born with the skills. Leadership is a daily practice and eventually, over time and careful self-scrutiny, you become better and better at it.
These are eight of the most important concepts related to cultivating your leadership skills that will help you become a great leader.
1. When in command, command.
These famous words are attributed to Adm. Chester Nimitz during the battle of Midway in World War II. One thing about leadership is that you have to step up and actually take control when you’re in the top position.
Learn to give directions clearly and to communicate your command directly. It’s far better to know where you stand and what the marching orders are than to be entangled in a quagmire of hearsay and confusion. Being a good leader means stepping into command when the time calls for it and being clear, direct and precise.
2. The whole before the individual.
Jane Wyman said, “The opportunity for brotherhood presents itself every time you meet a human being.”
Brotherhood isn’t about gender – it’s about uniting yourself with those you’ve been entrusted to lead. When you become a leader you enter a brotherhood that requires you to put the good of the whole above those of the individual. That might mean making unpopular decisions that are for the best of the team.
Sometimes you might have personal affinities for individuals, but if those persons aren’t pulling their weight, they simply can’t be a part of the team’s chain. You have to think outside your personal bias, your individual preferences and your own prejudices as a leader to do what is best for the team, even if that means difficult discussions or actions with certain individuals. The team is counting on you to lead.
3. Loose lips sink ships.
This slogan from the 1940s is just as true today when it comes to leadership. As the head of your team, group or community, you have to watch what you say. You set the tone for what is acceptable and what isn’t and what you say will go.
If you complain, if you gossip, if you speak ill of anyone, then the whole team will think that’s OK. Leadership becomes particularly difficult when you’re put in a position where executive decisions aren’t easy or popular, but it’s still up to you to keep the right message going with your team. You can’t afford to complain or gossip.
4. The team before self.
This is similar to the concept of the whole before the individual, but in this case, this means putting your team ahead of yourself personally. As a leader you must learn to put the good of the group ahead of your own self-interest. This often means working harder and being more positive than anyone else on the team.
Leaders don’t have the luxury of bad days or emotional outbreaks, the better you can keep your composure and set the tone for your team above your own emotions, the better you’ll be as a leader.
Related: Why Being Likable Never Works
5. First in, last out.
It’s the slogan associated with the Marines but it applies to good leaders, too. Set the standard for the team and make everyone stick to it. It’s not about staying until all hours of the night, but if something needs to get done, you need to stay with the team to ensure you help get the mission accomplished.
Never ask your team to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. It doesn’t mean you’ll do everything yourself, but your team will innately understand whether your requests are things you would do yourself. If you’re skipping out early as often as possible but asking them to tackle big projects with long hours, they’ll sense the insincerity of your leadership. You set the example and your team will perform to your standards.
6. Never, ever complain.
A leader simply doesn’t complain. They don’t complain about decisions, they don’t complain about conditions, they don’t complain about others – they just don’t complain.
7. Vision should be shared.
Good leaders communicate the mission with their team. When everyone knows the context of what the group is moving toward, they have their own ability to tap into the bigger picture when times get tough.
There’s an old fable about three masons employed to lay bricks. The first is only told he’s building a wall and finds the work tiring and tedious. The second is told a little more information: he’s building a structure and so he finds the work productive as he creates something useful. The third is told the full vision, that he’s laying the bricks to build a cathedral, and he finds his work inspiring and meaningful.
Giving people the full context of the vision will change their perspective and attitude. It can mean the difference between laying bricks or building a cathedral.
8. Communication is critical.
Most dysfunction in our lives comes from bad communication. Whether that’s in business or our personal lives, it’s universally true. Learning to be an effective communicator, both in terms of your verbal skills, your listening skills and your body language, will set you apart as a leader. You can only benefit and your team, too, from improving your communication.