We all have a certain image of leadership in our heads – a romantic ideal that makes the whole thing seem, among other things, lofty. When we actually get the opportunity to lead, it’s a bit like a first date for someone who watches too many rom-coms: we’re trying a bit too hard because we’re expecting a bit too much.
If you’re really a great leader, you don’t act like one. You don’t have to. All those abstract qualities that people find in their leaders they find on their own. You’re not supposed to make them up or try to project them. Fundamentally, what people actually respond to is a matter-of-fact approach to the business at hand – with a minimum of self-seriousness.
The truth is, the secret to becoming a great leader is learning how to be a good one. And there are a few simple ways to get started with that:
Leaders may make decisions, but they should never do it alone: they have to be open to all comers. As a leader, listening helps everyone and everything. It helps you make an informed decision that will lead to the best possible outcome. And it helps others feel engaged in the process, soothing any sense of resentment they may have. Sure, it’s your call: but they can all be on the line.
Mistakes happen. You make them; everyone else does too. With so much on the line, when things go wrong, bad leaders have a tendency towards self-justification that can drown out the broader purpose. Remember: people can say and think what they like about who did what wrong – and you may be the target of a lot of their frustration. Rise above it and stay focused on the future. In the end, they’ll respect you far more for that attitude than disparage you for whatever went wrong in the moment.
Even when times are tough, nobody wants to see their leader crack. You might think they want your sympathy – that they want to feel like you’re in it with them – but people look to their leaders for steadiness. Whatever happens, you have to stay cool. If it’s sunny, you’re the breeze; if it’s a storm, you’re the eye. Trying to do too much can be just as bad as not doing enough. Sometimes, just serenely doing nothing can end up being the mark of a great leader.