Exceptional leaders inspire others. This might be because of how they speak, the stands they take, or the results of their work. It might be because of how others speak about them or their ability to rally a team or to persuade others to change their behaviors. Different leaders inspire in different ways. I’ve been a student of leaders for many years. I would think about who the cool kids were and wonder what made them cool. Some were cool because they had magnetic and charming personalities. Others were cool because they were determined, perhaps controlling in a way that was a little scary. People were inspired by them because they didn’t want to end up on their wrong side. Sometimes the workforce isn’t very different from elementary school. There are leaders who inspire through positive words and actions, leaders who inspire you to be with and around them, and leaders who inspire you for fear of getting on their bad side. I’ve worked with each of these kinds of leaders. Obviously, I’m not encouraging you to be the kind of leader who inspires by using fear. I would like you to think about how you inspire people, though. I know it’s hard to self-reflect and list why you are inspiring, but what would others say about you? Would they say you inspire them to be better, to work harder, to be more creative, to take chances? Would they say you inspire them because of your words of encouragement, your confidence in them or your example? Different people get inspired in different ways. Be aware of how you inspire others and how people around you need inspiration. I was listening to a professional speaker who said that the two main things he strived to do from onstage was to impact and inspire. These were intentional goals, and he crafted his presentations around these goals. I want you to make inspiring others an intentional goal and continually think about how you can inspire others.
Leaders are excellent communicators. Communication takes on various forms. This could mean being great on stage or great in a small group. It could be excellent communication one on one, or excellent written communication. Leaders are very careful with their outbound communication, considering their audience, the needs of the audience, and the message that needs to be conveyed. I once worked with a leader who asked for ideas. In this scenario, my ideas pushed boundaries that she wasn’t ready to have pushed. I was kind of testing how crazy we could get with my ideas. I was amazed at her ability to tactfully communicate two messages to me. The first message was that I had great ideas. She wanted to hear more of my great ideas, and I was a valuable contributor on the team. The second message was simply, no. She never said no and I never felt shut down by her; I’ve never seen anyone with her tact and finesse reign my craziness in while making me feel more valued than before I shared my ideas. This is communication at its finest. Other examples of excellent communication might include a very concise email that has just the right amount of information without undertones of problems, or in the case of a difficult conversation, communicating empathy and a human connection while delivering hard news. I once worked with someone who was excellent on stage. He was actually one of the best I’ve ever seen. He had people on the edge of their seats, and you immediately were bought into his message and wanted more from him. He was a powerful communicator, but there were other situations such as regular meetings where he didn’t excel. He didn’t like them and he wasn’t shy to tell me that they made him uncomfortable. From this experience, I was reminded that sometimes we excel in one area of communication, but that doesn’t mean we excel in every area. As a leader, I encourage you to have an honest conversation with yourself. Do a self-inventory. In what areas of communication do you excel, and in what areas are there opportunities for improvement? Don’t worry about not being excellent in all areas, but knowing where you excel and where you are weak can help you choose the right opportunities to be a better communicator.
Leaders know how and when to delegate. I know, as well as anyone that delegating can be hard. I once hired two admins and had plenty of work for them to do, but my problem was that I wasn’t really ready to turn work over to them. I was still figuring out what their tasks would be, what I wanted accomplished, and even how much I could trust either admin with delicate tasks and information. Eventually, both of the admins left my team, because they just didn’t have enough work to do. This was a big fail on my part. I’ve thought about this a lot since it happened. What would I do differently now? As I’ve watched other leaders who are better at delegating than I had been, I’ve observed and learned a few things. First, leaders delegate to the right people at the right time. Next, leaders trust the people they delegate to. Next, leaders delegate the right work. Finally, leaders use their time and resources that they have freed up to work on what they should work on. Each of these components will set you up for successful delegation. The last point is that you take the time that is freed up and do the work you need to do. Another important reason to delegate is because it presents a great opportunity for your team to learn and grow, which helps your team become stronger.
Leaders have a keen understanding of time and prioritization. Leaders know where to invest their time and what projects they should focus on. As I’ve observed people in the workplace, I’ve noticed that some come to work and give everything they have during business hours to their jobs. These are generally pleasant people to be around and people you want to work with. In contrast, I’ve worked with and around some people who seem to come to work only to talk to coworkers or see how they can get away without working at all, or work on personal projects. This second group of people is not prioritizing wisely. Leaders understand the importance of the project management concept we call the critical path; that is which tasks, if left undone will hold up the rest of the project? Some leaders seem to have an inner eye that inherently understand the concept of the critical path and are acutely aware of the importance of ensuring critical path tasks get done with high priority. Leaders do not waste time on things that are low priorities. Be careful to judge what you think is a low priority, though. Usually leaders have a different perspective and maybe some information and objectives you don’t know about. For example, if a leader chooses to have a conversation that doesn’t make sense to you about something that seems like a low priority, it could be something that has escalated to a high priority for reasons that you don’t know. I know there have been times I’ve questioned why leaders do things that don’t seem to be important, only to later realize there was information or circumstances that I was not privy to. Focus on the right things and your choices will pay off. Focus on the wrong things and people will question your judgment. Great leaders know how to prioritize and manage their time.