How to become a better leader

Many of us in business – and in life – play leadership roles. But what should leaders be doing? And how can you become a better leader? Eleanor Scott shares her advice.

The first step to becoming a better leader is to have a clear understanding of what a leader embodies. My definition of a leader is: “A person out in front – influencing and paving the way for others to first follow, and then imitate.”

Author, speaker and pastor John Maxwell puts this another way. He says: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

If we break this down and start with ‘knowing the way’, it is obvious that leaders need to know the way to some ‘new’ destination. One of the key characteristics of a leader is vision. They need to have a picture of the future that’s different from the present and the past. In short – a picture of what you are working towards but don’t yet have.

For this picture to be compelling enough to stimulate changed thinking and behavior it needs to embrace all your senses and answer these questions: “What does this future look like, sound like and feel like?” What will I be saying when this picture is realized and what will others be saying to me. For example, if your goal is to “get fit in 2014”, think about what this means to you. What do you look like when you are fit, how much do you weigh, what can you do (actions) when you are fit. How will you feel when you are fit – what emotions will you have, what will you hear people saying to you and about you when you are fit and most important – what will you be saying to yourself?

The next step toward realizing your vision as a leader is to think about where you are now and then determine for yourself what the gap is between where you are now and where you want to be within a certain timeframe. This will help you decide what actions you need to take in order to get you to this new future. Work out specific, measureable, actions that will be relevant to you in order to achieve your desired outcome within your timeframe. To return to our fitness example, it could be committing to running two kilometres every day for the next month.

Leaders also possess the ability to demonstrate and model the behavior required to get to their vision – showing the way for others to imitate and follow. As mentioned earlier leaders lead others towards a defined ‘new’ destination (vision) and if they don’t have vision and purpose for their own lives they will not effectively lead others towards their desired vision. In essence – you cannot give what you do not have.

Another essential characteristic for effective leadership is above average communication skills, not just speaking but rather receiving and giving feedback in light of where you are going – your vision.

So, having said all of this, how can you start to become a better leader?  In my view it all begins by learning to really listen to people in order to understand the message and the messenger better. Think of great leaders like Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama and how they are able to engage with people both individually and in a crowd.

Good leaders also know and understand people and how to connect with them. Another John Maxwell quote in light of this characteristic is: “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” Effective leaders care enough to know where their followers want to go and then tap into their potential and capacity to lead them toward their vision.

To help you develop your leadership skills, I recommend that you identify someone who you believe is a good leader and who you look up to or who inspires you. Just as in a mentorship relationship, you can learn by behaviours being modelled to you and then mimicking that behaviour if it aligns with your vision and goals. Identify the things that they do that you can adapt and emulate to suit your own leadership style.

At The Hope Factory we work with business owners and entrepreneurs on a daily basis to help them develop themselves and their businesses. True entrepreneurs are those who are also leaders for it is their entrepreneurial spirit that allows them to look to a future that’s better than the present and past.


[Box] The five essential traits of a leader

I believe a good leader helps to bring out the best in others by positively influencing them to realise and maximise their potential. They also display the following five characteristics:

  1. Character. This is about the intangible things like honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, loyalty and respect. These things cannot be taught, but they can be learnt.
  2. Vision. A leader should have a vision of a future and should always be moving toward that vision.
  3. Discipline. A leader is disciplined and once committed to a task, follows through even when they don’t feel like it
  4. Attitude. A positive attitude to life in general is vital to effective influence.
  5. Teach-ability. A leader sees the value in constantly learning and changing in order to stay in the ‘lead’ – great leaders are lifelong learners!

Eleanor Scott is the Executive Mentor at The Hope Factory. She has spent the past 20 years developing entrepreneurs in the field of Early Childhood Education and the Wellness industry.