Discovering Your Leadership Drive


Some people are born with the traits most suited to becoming an effective leader. Others may find that they have to work a lot harder to achieve success in a leadership role. But each of us has some innate potential to step up and take charge. If your team needs direction, don't be afraid to discover whether you could be the one to provide it.

Much has been written about the innate potential in each of us to be a great leader. Are effective leaders just born to take charge, or is their capability developed through training and experience?

Positive psychology identifies a number of traits that are commonly found in those who excel at taking command and directing others. Many people just love taking charge and being in the driver’s seat. Others may find that they just do not enjoy having the responsibility that goes with the leadership role and may prefer to contribute without having to be concerned about directing others and steering the ship. When a situation arises that requires someone to step up and take charge, you may find that you have the inner drive to become a great leader. Let’s consider the best ways to develop and calibrate these leadership skills.

The first step in discovering your leadership drive is identifying the need for direction and recognizing your own willingness to fill an existing gap. The circumstances in which you find yourself often dictate the style of leadership required, and one key challenge is adapting your approach to the situation at hand. In a true emergency, an authoritarian “command and control” demeanor is often the right approach. In most other situations, though, you will only be successful if your approach is more collaborative and democratic. Wise leaders assess the situation and then tailor their approach to align with both the culture of the organization and the situational requirements.

Well-respected leaders usually owe their success to building consensus among stakeholders around them. Taking input from others and listening to each perspective is often the best approach to gathering the most accurate information and making the best choices. Realize, also, that when you fail to involve others, your mistakes are your own, and folks around you may not feel as much of a commitment to lend a helping hand. Another important consideration is to evaluate the personalities on the team, including each person’s unique style of communicating.

Great leaders are keenly aware of the personalities of the individuals with whom they interact regularly—especially each one's personal communication style. Successful teams embrace a variety of personalities and communication styles, but this diversity also means you need to be able to work effectively with each of these stakeholders. If you want to be effective, then you need to tailor your approach to each person around you. Obviously, this is not always easy, and it is often necessary to try one or two approaches before you identify the best way to work with someone. Some folks excel when they are given very clear direction and are challenged and motivated. Others may find that too much direction leads them to feel anxious, which effectively causes them to shut down and withdraw. Savvy leaders watch the body language of the person with whom they are interacting and adapt their delivery to yield the best results.

Culture is also an important consideration, both in terms of the location and the industry. If you are working at a defense contractor, then the culture may feel very much like you have been drafted into the army. An approach that works well in these situations may not go over well at all in an Internet startup in Silicon Valley. Similarly, in some countries, being too direct with your communication may deeply offend everyone around you, while people in other societies appreciate getting straight to the point. Being able to assess and adapt in real time is essential for achieving the desired results.

The best leaders lead by example, especially in terms of demonstrating honesty, integrity, and persistence, particularly in the face of great challenges. Failure should never be considered an option. The smart manager who can roll up his sleeves and help get the work done has a distinct advantage over another manager who can only direct others on what needs to be done. Successful leaders are also great coaches, mentoring and guiding their staff to success. Having the self-awareness to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses is an essential first step. One of the true hallmarks of a great leader is how they handle mistakes and problems.

People make mistakes, but blaming is counterproductive. Great leaders create workplaces where everyone knows that they can acknowledge when they made a mistake, secure in the awareness that their colleagues' focus will be on working together to fix the problem. In healthy environments, everyone understands that they are on a journey to improve themselves and the processes used to run the organization. Welcoming constant feedback at all levels is also a key aspect of being a great leader. Good managers create an open environment where they can count on their staff to be the first to warn them if they are about to make a mistake.

The most successful teams are often self-organizing, self-managing teams that have a variety of personalities, each with its own capabilities and challenges. The leader sets the tone in these situations and is responsible for ensuring that each member is able to reach and achieve his or her potential.

Some people are born with the traits most suited to becoming an effective leader. Others may find that they have to work a lot harder to achieve success in a leadership role. You need to consider your own strengths and weaknesses; don’t be afraid to step up and assume a leadership role, especially if you notice the team really needs someone to help bring everyone together and get some traction. If you are able to balance sharing your own creative ideas and suggestions for others with an openness to feedback, you may find that playing a leadership role is a most exciting and rewarding endeavor.

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