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Signs you are a good leader

February 22, 2013

By Steven Strauss

President’s Day served as a reminder that, like small business owners, not all presidents are great leaders. It’s ironic of course given that the highest political office in the land is one where effective leadership would seem to be a prerequisite. But when one looks at a list of the worst presidents ever, the same names routinely crop up – Warren G. Harding, James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover – and the reason for their poor ranking is often the same: They were very poor leaders.

It turns out that the same skills that allow someone to rise up the political ladder are not always the same ones that make someone a great leader.  Cutting deals, raising money, saying something whether you believe it or not, the willingness to compromise – no, those are not normally traits associated with great leadership.

The same can be said in the small business world. Someone can be a great leader but a poor entrepreneur, and vice versa. And that then begs the question – how do you know if you are both?

Let me suggest that great business owners share many of the following traits:

Vision: The essence of effective leadership, be it political or entrepreneurial, is the ability to formulate a vision for where you want to take people. In the case of the small business, it is a vision for what the business stands for, where it is headed, and how you and the team will get it there.

The ability to enroll people in that vision: I once attended a course in leadership and the thing they stressed, the thing I remember 25 years later, is that true leaders have the ability to enroll other people in their vision. You only become a leader when you actually create such a compelling vision – ideally a vision that is based on integrity, core values, passion, and logic – that other people “get it” and want to be invested in it too. They believe in you and your vision.

Think about any great leader in any field – MLK, Ronald Reagan, Steve Jobs – didn’t they enroll people in their vision?

Execution: All talk and no action makes Jack a faux leader. Leading a business also requires that you have the ability to come up with a way to execute on your vision and utilize the belief people have put in you so as to further your (mutual) goals. This means marshaling your resources and utilizing them in an efficient manner.

Emotional intelligence: Richard Nixon was undoubtedly a master politician and a foreign policy genius. But he lacked an essential characteristic of great leaders – emotional intelligence. He did not like people much, clearly did not trust them, and as such he also engendered little trust in return. Emotional intelligence is the ability to intuit a situation, respond appropriately and maturely, be empathetic, and deal with people in a way that resonates. Bill Clinton is a master at this.  

This also requires the ability to:

Be a good listener: A small business owner who does not listen may stay in business, but he or she will never be a great leader because leadership means having followers, and people will only follow if they feel they are being heard.

Show charisma and confidence: These traits need not be loud or overt to be present, but to be a good leader, you must have them in some capacity. Recently, I interviewed several people for a job. The mousy applicant, while clearly talented and experienced, lost out to a more charismatic applicant because the latter enrolled me in her ability to be able to do the job.

And finally, a great leader has the ability to:

Lead: Leadership requires risk-taking and boldness. It requires confidence and the willingness to be out in front.

Leaders lead.

Today’s Tip: So who are the best presidents of all time? Here is the most recent survey I have seen. The survey of presidential scholars ranks Barack Obama at 15 (out of 44) and George W. Bush 5th worst. (And please, don’t kill the messenger!)

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