Being an effective business leader takes years of practice.
The primary reason it takes so long is because effective leadership means being able to balance a number of skills, all of which require their own learning curve. In fact, “skills” isn’t even the best word for it. They’re really more virtues than anything else.
Though different leadership styles can be used at different times to build and run an effective business, these eight character traits should be universal in each and every leader:
One of the most important characteristics of a business leader is self-awareness, and the ability to understand your own strengths and weaknesses.
Very often, I run into leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs that make the mistake of going to great lengths to cover up their weaknesses — instead of addressing them openly so an effective solution can be found. Or worse, they aren’t aware of what their weaknesses are at all, and instead play entirely to their strengths.
Over time, this leaves them vulnerable, and their business often suffers as a result.
Every effective leader has to learn how to make sound decisions, quickly.
What so many leaders forget is that no decision is still a decision in itself. This is known as “paralysis by analysis.” Out of fear of making the wrong decision, they end up postponing taking action — which almost always causes a larger problem, and so on and so forth.
Effective leaders often learn this lesson the hard way. And once they do, they know the value in moving swiftly and confidently, even if they’re not entirely certain of their direction — because they know any direction is better than no direction.
Treating others equally, no matter the circumstance, is a must-have characteristic of any effective leader, period.
Without fairness, you have subjectivity — and subjectivity is very difficult to scale. As a leader, you don’t have the luxury of looking at each and every situation, conflict, or personal issue with a detailed eye. What’s more important is having principles and practices in place that ensure you reach positive desired outcomes, faster. This means handling internal company issues with clearly established principles that are fair to all.
If you want people to follow you, then you have to lead them with enthusiasm.
This is something I work hard to instill in the people I work with — especially my sales teams. And the best way to do this is to lead by example. No employee will want to work for someone who doesn’t embody the same characteristics they’re being told to have and hone themselves. And no leadership team will want to pour blood, sweat, and tears into a business that is run by someone less enthusiastic.
As a leader, it’s your job — not to tell, but to show — those around you what enthusiasm and a true commitment to greatness looks like on a daily basis.
Earning the respect of your team without having to remind them of your seniority is the definition of integrity.
Too many leaders lean on their titles as a crutch. They excuse their own behavior by saying, “I’m the founder. I’m the CEO. I’m the manager,” instead of earning people’s respect by acting and behaving appropriately. This is a concept I talk about at length in my book, All In.
Integrity is about more than just doing the right thing. It’s about standing for something bigger than yourself, and setting a precedent within your business. After all, a company’s culture is a reflection of its leaders.
Which means it all starts with you.
A talking head is worthless.
Every business leader needs to be as much of a practitioner as they are a facilitator. Too many CEOs get comfortable in their corner office and stop being present in the day to day of their own businesses, which leads them to fall out of touch with employees, their peers, and sometimes even their industry at large.
If you want to remain a leader — of your market, and within your own company — it’s crucial that you keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening, and stay on top of relevant facts, figures, and best practices.
7. Creativity and Imagination
The ability to come up with new and innovative ideas that propel your business forward is what allows leaders to stay around for the long term.
Building a profitable company isn’t the hard part. What’s hard is keeping a company profitable over the course of a decade, two decades, three decades. And what’s even harder is taking a profitable company and doubling its revenue over, and over, and over again.
Too many entrepreneurs, founders, and CEOs think this growth process is a directly reflection of hard work. “Put the hours in, and you’ll get the results you want out the other side.”
But that’s just not true.
There is a significant amount of creativity required in order to propel your business forward. Because often times, it’s not a straight line — which means what’s required is not “more hard work,” but a different approach altogether.
And finally, every leader knows that what’s more important than anything else in the world is the ability to persevere — even when things go wrong.
Part of being a leader is learning to be alright with ambiguity. You won’t have all the answers. You won’t always know where to move next. You’ll have your wins, and you’ll have your losses. But through it all, you can’t lose your sense of confidence. You have to always believe in yourself, and your ability to see things through to the end.