Professional Resume Writer, Career Writer and Career Coach
There are plenty of baseball players worldwide, but only a select few will master the sport enough to play in the World Series. Similarly, you’ll meet hundreds of “managers” throughout your professional career. Still, only a few will cement themselves as true leaders in your mind. This is why leadership is important—the most influential leaders leave a mark. They inspire.
To become one yourself, you’ll need to develop key leadership traits over time. These qualities are considered critical traits to advancing your career. Below, we’ll discuss what truly inspired leadership looks like and how you can lead a team yourself one day.
“Leadership” is kind of ambiguous. The concept itself is tough to define, but experts have categorized leadership into several styles, such as transformational, servant, or visionary. In general, leadership is what inspires, influences, and drives change within an environment.
Leadership can’t be pinpointed by a single path or personality type. Your parents led your household growing up, teachers mentored you through school, and athletic coaches steered your team to the playoffs (maybe…hopefully). In fact, you’ve probably taken on leadership roles or been inspired by leaders in your life without ever realizing it.
Leaders play a crucial role in driving change, whether a parent, teacher, coach or supervisor. Franklin Covey outlines four essential roles of leadership that are highly predictive of success—even if the change happens during turbulent times or in dynamic organizations. His research concludes that successful leaders must do these three things:
- Inspire trust
- Think big and adapt quickly
- Translate strategy into meaningful work
- Coach people to higher performance
When done right, these learned skills help align teams together under a common goal. To Covey, leaders who can successfully think big and adapt, envision a strategy, and coach up their best employees are the most effective.
However, notice that a leader’s ability to inspire trust is the first and most important factor on this list. Trust starts with a leader’s own character and competence—the credibility that allows leaders to create a culture around trust and accountability. Without trust, leaders are simply talking figureheads.
Leaders & Managers: They’re Not The Same
Most organizational structures have leaders and managers responsible for guiding teams and driving change. Many use the words “leader” and “manager” synonymously, but they are different. A manager is a position—Supply Chain Manager, Customer Service Manager, or Digital Marketing Manager. But you don’t automatically become a leader when you’re promoted into a role where you manage people. Of course, there’s an element of leadership in management, but these two “titles” are distinctive.
A leader’s primary focus is not to manage people; it’s to inspire, empower, engage, and envision. A manager takes the leadership’s vision and oversees the nuts and bolts of how to get there. They organize, staff, plan, and direct.
A manager leads every now and again because of their status. Leaders lead all the time because of their qualities. Simply put, people follow leaders because they want to, not because they have to.
So, Why Is Leadership So Important?
If a leader’s power and influence—the ability to drive meaningful change—is so compelling, then you can see why companies spend so much time and money searching for quality leaders to join their organizations. Truly great leaders inspire naturally. They invest in their people, so their people can invest in their work. Inspired employees drive business results. Why is leadership important? Here are six reasons:
It increases engagement.
Studies confirm that employees who trust their leaders are more engaged at work. But trust is earned. So leaders must lead with integrity and authenticity to increase confidence in their environments. When done successfully, employees work harder, communicate better, and contribute more frequently.
It drives profits.
It’s not always possible to measure the link between leadership and profitability. However, deductive reasoning suggests that the link exists and is stronger than ever. Great leaders envision three steps down the road, showing a clear picture and pathway for getting there. These plans and processes are passed down through the organizational funnel to equip employees to do their jobs better. Leaders help recruit better talent, increase innovation, and reduce turnover—all things that help pad a company’s bottom line.
It sets expectations.
With clear and transparent communication, employees are sure of their purpose and mission, leading to higher commitment and more significant results. Leaders outline expectations everywhere to promote individual, team, and organizational commitment. Employees who understand the background—why this goal is important and how their role contributes to its success—work harder to complete their piece of the puzzle.
It creates future leaders.
The words “leadership” and “mentorship” go hand-in-hand. Influential leaders coach up new leaders who possess their own set of strengths. Companies brimming with independent leaders at every level of the organization win at work (and in life).
It develops other key skills.
Even if you’re not in a position of authority, you can be a leader. Good leaders have better self-awareness, motivation, accountability, and decision-making skills. These skills and traits take time to develop, and can only morph in situations requiring empathy, self-regulation, and accountability.
It builds confidence.
Successful leaders inspire people to feel confident in their abilities and their work. When you hone your leadership skills, you influence others around you. The result? Profitable businesses that are fueled by better productivity and organizational buy-in, which helps teams deliver higher-quality products and services.
It improves morale.
Leaders set the tone within their teams and throughout the organization. We’ve said it a million times before, but great bosses bring out the best in their people who stay for longer, work harder, and are happier overall.
The Qualities of a Good Leader
What makes a good leader? If you thought back to every great leader you’ve met—a coach, a mentor, a supervisor—you’d likely pinpoint a few qualities each person possessed. The best leaders have these fundamental qualities and skills:
- Empathy: Empathetic qualities are critical to emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness. They help forge meaningful relationships and lead inclusively.
- Self-awareness: The better you understand your own strengths and weaknesses, the more effectively you can communicate and inspire others.
- Courage: Speak up at work, voice a new idea, and give feedback. Courageous leaders innovate and raise the bar by promoting problem-solving, critical thinking, and boldness in the workplace.
- Respect: A culture of respect (moreover, a lack of disrespect) starts with being a good listener, encouraging different perspectives, and easing tensions when conflicts arise.
- Communication: The best leaders are skilled communicators who successfully translate information (vision, goals, or the next steps in the project) across various roles, locations, and more.
Is Leadership Only a Natural Skill, or Can You Develop It?
Leadership skills are not like your eye color, height, or even teeth—you know, traits determined by your DNA. Many vital life and career skills are learned. This is a good thing, as it suggests you can learn how to become a better leader.
Several studies, however, indicate that leadership could also be hereditary and that we cannot be taught to lead. One twin study suggests that humans are born with potential and the ability to become leaders if the genetic leadership traits are developed in the right environment.
So the answer to the question? It’s likely both. To become a better leader, you must tap into the right traits and skills. Then, you can nurture them over time until they become natural.
How To Develop Leadership Qualities?
You can become a good leader through deliberate practice. Early on, step out of your comfort zone, put yourself in tough or ambiguous situations and challenge yourself to improve or succeed. The more work you do, the more you learn and the more ready you are to answer interview questions about your leadership skills.
Have a plan for growth and development. Make learning a priority and devote time to learning regularly. This becomes easier if you surround yourself with like-minded people who motivate you to learn something new each day. When you create a plan for your development, you’re more likely to stick with it.
Finally, practice Franklin Covey’s characteristics of leadership. In your daily work, think about how you can think critically and problem-solve. Learn how to listen and provide feedback respectfully, and commit to encouraging and empowering people on your team until suddenly, these traits become natural, and you lead without ever even realizing it.
If your career isn’t where you want it to be right now, know that bigger and better things are on the horizon—if you nurture the traits and skills that are invaluable to a workforce. To grow in your career, you must emerge as a leader. Leaders of all types are made in the trenches. The more you understand what makes a leader great, the more likely you will become one. Commit to building your skills every day.