Strong leadership is hard to find.  Some key qualities of great leaders are innate, while others can only be obtained through effort and experience

As unfair as it seems, studies show that people tend to follow people who are charismatic, outgoing, good-looking, and above average in height. 

Since these qualities are beyond our control, this piece will focus on leadership traits which can be developed and mastered. 

The following are 7 characteristics I’ve seen in effective leaders throughout my 20+ year career which I try to emulate:

1. Look Sharp, Act Sharp, Be Sharp

Outward perceptions are immensely important for a leader. Your team should look to you as an example of where they hope to be someday. 

This doesn’t work if your appearance, demeanor, and attitude don’t convey the right message.  

This starts with adopting a positive attitude from the minute you wake up.  I never feel sharper than after breaking a good sweat, cooling down, and then taking a shower. 

Get up early and go to the gym.  If that’s not possible, go for a quick run, do push-ups and sit-ups, yoga, or whatever it takes to get the juices flowing. 

Always be groomed and dressed immaculately, even if your office attire is casual.  How you carry yourself has a profound effect on how much impact your words and actions have on others.

2. Listen and Empathize

We’ve all had the boss who doesn’t listen and dictates all day. The worst CEO I ever had was hired at a 5 year-old 50 person start-up. On his first day, he gave a very motivating speech to the staff. 

He then scheduled one on ones with every employee where he basically gave each person a slightly personalized version of the same speech, while showing zero interest in hearing from any of us. 

Needless to say, it was all downhill from there.  He never really got the pulse of the business, made a series of avoidable mistakes, and was dismissed by the board within a year.  

A good boss makes it clear that their word is the last word, but feedback and opinions will be heard and considered.  

It’s equally important to empathize with your team on a personal level, and take a real interest in them as people.  An inspirational leader must genuinely care about their people on all levels.

3. Demand and Offer Transparency Without Micromanaging

Discussions of the virtues and pitfalls of “micromanaging” are common, but few agree on exactly what it means and if it’s necessary. I believe micromanaging is always counterproductive.

The compulsion to micromanage comes from fear and irrational need to control things. Micromanaging stunts the initiative of top salespeople, and demonstrates a lack of understanding of how to manage a team. 

A micromanager pesters down and reports up, while a true leader inspires and facilitates success. That said, always be clear with your employees as to where they stand, and review key perfomance indicators (KPIs) with them at a regularly scheduled time, at weekly intervals. 

Voice concerns promptly and directly, but do not fall into the trap of over-managing KPIs by insisting on daily updates, as this creates a stressful work environment which stifles productivity.

4.  Don’t Ask Them to Do Anything You Wouldn’t Do Yourself

I frequently tell my team stories of when I was a salesperson.  Some are tales of significant triumphs, while others are of crushing defeats, which in many cases provide the most valuable lessons. 

Related:  8 Core Competencies Leaders Need to Sustain Performance

When I hire a new rep, part of my training is to sit in a room with them, and take turns making cold calls until we set some appointments. 

When they see that I am willing get punched in the face a few times, persevere, and forge ahead, their willingness to do what it takes to get the job done increases exponentially. 

5.  Never Let Them See You Sweat

To achieve the “gravitas” of a respected leader, one must always maintain an even keel, even when under severe pressure or siege. Whether it’s beratement from a disrespectful client or criticism from above, you have to keep your cool.

When the ship is in a storm, the crew looks to the captain to know whether they should panic. Always maintain an outward appearance of emotional control, even if your gut is flipping like a fish out of water. Your team, as well as your peers and superiors will respect you for it.

6. Encourage Growth

A good leader is able to motivate employees to produce day in and day out.  A great leader inspires people to reach new levels in their career. 

They take joy in seeing team members move up the ladder, even if that means a hit to their team’s talent in the short term. 

The best boss I ever had recommended for a promotion to a more advanced team, even though I was bringing in 50% of the revenue for his 5-person team. 

As it turned out, the rest of the team picked up the slack, and they had a great quarter after I moved up. 

I believe they were highly motivated by their boss’s willingness to help advance their careers, which resulted in a bump in productivity. 

I’m still in touch with the aforementioned leader, who is now CEO of a thriving business.  I regard him as one of my most influential mentors to this day.

7.  Integrity

Last but not least is integrity.  The surest way to lose the respect of your team is for them to see your integrity compromised. 

Most people know to avoid getting caught in blatant lies, but less obvious behaviors which demonstrate a lack of integrity are displacing blame and claiming undue credit. 

Let your team know that the buck stops with you.  Shoulder the blame for the team in times of trouble, while offering them the credit for its success. 

If you are an effective leader, it will show.  There is an appropriate time to highlight your accomplishments, which is not during day to day business. 

Being a sycophant to your superiors and a tyrant to your underlings will result in nothing but contempt from all sides.

How Can You Be an Inspirational Leader?

If you have ideas you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Brent Peacher
Brent Peacher is a Top Performing Technology Sales Leader, Social Media Mogul, and Author with over 20 years of experience. Brent owns and manages multiple Linked discussion groups with over 30,000 members, and publishes a weekly newsletter on cybersecurity.
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