If leadership was easy, there would be far fewer books and articles written about it. One of the reasons it’s so challenging is that it is not easy to master.
Skilled leadership is difficult to define and harder to do, let alone do well. To succeed and be an inspirational leader, one must practice, work hard, and have a commitment to the goal.
There are any number of crucial traits that inspirational leaders display and hone on a consistent basis. Here are four of the most essential of those leadership skills.
1. Listen actively
Sure, you may think you are listening, but are you actively listening? Are you fully engaged with the person with whom you’re having a conversation? Active listening means giving someone your full attention, being present with non-verbal language, staying off of your smartphone or pondering your to-do list, and truly being present in the moment. Active listening means being able to summarize what the other person said, providing reflection that the other party knows he or she has been heard and understood.
2. Forge trusting relationships
Relationships are crucial in all aspects of business. Providing effective leadership that’s inspirational means having working relationships with those above, next to, and below you on the organizational chart. These relationships ensure that there are opportunities for candid dialogue and risk-taking, and a willingness to forgive.
3. Maintain your principles
We are all guided by internal principles that define who we are at work and outside the office. Inspired leadership comes from leaders that have an understanding of their principles and the organization’s principles. When the time comes for a challenging decision that may call into question or betray those principles, the true leader stays true. Those actions will undoubtedly be seen and become known. Maintaining those principles is more than “the right thing to do,” it’s about being honest with the image in the mirror.
4. Recognize and adapt
There’s an old adage in leadership training: Leaders go first. There’s a reason why it’s said so often. Leaders need to be willing to take that look in the mirror and know when change is needed, either in personal style, staff organization, or program direction.
When such times come, a leader goes first, making the bold steps necessary for personal or professional change. The leader will take that step off the cliff, not knowing if there’s a safety net below.
4. Demonstrate enthusiasm
Leaders know the difference between cheerleading and enthusiasm and focus on the latter. Leaders know they are more likely to be followed when they are a positive presence, quick to publicly praise when appropriate, and providing counsel, not criticism, when things do not go as planned. Leaders see potential, not problems, and focus on what went right. That does not mean an inspirational leader does not recognize missteps, but such leaders do so by embracing them as teachable moments.
The art of leadership development is one that must be practiced and honed over many years. Leaders who are principled, compelling, compassionate, and enthusiastic are far more likely to inspire staff, colleagues, volunteers, and friends.