You’ve almost certainly heard the phrase “he/she is a natural leader” to describe someone — maybe even someone in your peer group or company. Being a natural leader often seems to have a kind of “know it when you see it” quality — and some believe that leaders are born, not made. But being a leader isn’t necessarily some binary quality that you’re either born with or you aren’t. But natural talent isn’t everything. There are qualities that define a natural leader, and there are skills you can learn to improve that leadership.
Characteristics of a Leader
“A leader leads,” as another saying goes. But leadership is a bit more sophisticated than that, and can mean different things to different people. Here are some of the most common characteristics of a natural leader:
- Daring and Different
Probably the most defining quality of a leader is refusing to follow all the rules. Leading is, by definition, not following, and that means daring to do things as they haven’t been done before, trying new approaches, and “thinking outside the box.” Even (in fact, especially) if others find it unusual, frightening or even crazy.
- Has a Clear Vision
A critical part of leadership is knowing where you’re leading people to. This means having a clear, bold vision of where you want things to go, and having a carefully crafted plan of how to get there. Knowing how you’re going to pursue and attain those lofty goals is at least as important as having those lofty goals in the first place.
- A Hard Worker
A leader doesn’t just come up with an idea and sit back while others do the hard work for them. A crucial component of leadership is jumping in and being an integral part of the work. Most natural leaders are early risers who get as much done as they can in a day — then wake up the next morning and start all over again.
- Others Respect Your Opinion
One can’t lead without having others who are willing to follow — and that means they have to respect your opinion and be ready to help take the steps you lay out. First of all, that means having an opinion worth respecting. Being able to delegate effectively means encouraging and enabling others to do their best. That means having good character and showing integrity and commitment in what you do.
- You Respect the Opinions of Others
If you’re in a leadership position, it’s important to let others have their input and be part of the process. That is one of your biggest responsibilities as a good leader — not to do it alone, but to give the others the autonomy they need to do their best.
- Positive and Energetic
No one follows a negative and pessimistic person. Natural leaders tend to brim with positive energy which, in turn, helps inspire and motivate others.
But leadership, as we’ve said above, isn’t all natural. There are qualities you can cultivate and improve, even if you possess some of them already. So if you’re not a natural-born leader, how can you improve your leadership skills?
Improving Your Leadership Skills
- Complete a leadership training program. There is a wealth of available training programs that can help take you to the next level, from niche online courses to online MBA programs that will give you all the tools you need to forge yourself into a leader.
- Find a mentor. Experience and learning don’t just come from books and courses. Some personal guidance and hands-on experience could make a huge difference. Finding the right mentor can be invaluable in honing your talents.
- Improve your interpersonal skills. To be fair, this is a great idea even if you aren’t in a leadership position. Good communications skills are a crucial part of working with others. You must be tactful, be able to relate to others, and put forward your ideas in a clear and constructive way.
- Invest in continuous learning. Even the most natural leader isn’t born perfect. Environments and needs change, and a good leader must, by definition, change with them — ideally, being on the leading edge of that change, or even creating it in the first place! To that end, a good leader should always be reading, learning, and improving, looking for new ways to expand their way of thinking. This is true whether you’re trying to learn more in your career field, or just working on your soft skills.
Ultimately, leadership is a skill, even if it was picked up naturally without any formal training. It’s not a quality anyone is born with — it’s made through circumstances and experience, which means it can be honed, polished, and improved. You can learn your way into becoming a leadership figure… or, if you already are one, you can embrace training and practice and become great.
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