It takes more to be a leader than giving orders. The best leaders embody everything employees should aim to be; they are skillful and motivated to the point that it’s infectious. They speak with authority and garner respect. However, succeeding at the social aspect of leadership is useless if someone doesn’t know how to use his leverage. People expect leaders to know where an organization needs to go and how it can get there, but it takes a lot of thought and work for leaders to create a coherent vision.
Looking at History
The best examples of leaders can usually be found on the battlefield. There are exceptions; Gandhi’s revolution would never have succeeded if he wasn’t bold enough to try nonviolent resistance when he lacked the means to employ force. Likewise, MLK wouldn’t have become an iconic figured without a firm strategy in place to guide those who sought equality. The bloodier parts of history contain examples such as Zhuge Liang; he was a Chinese strategist who employed straw boats during the battle of the red cliffs in order to steal the enemy’s arrows. Everyone can learn something about how to lead by studying their examples, and it’s one reason why every businessman should pick up a copy of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” The modern age is civilized, but battlefields still exist in the form of projects and politics.
The specific strategies have to be thought up according to circumstance, but there are principles that should be second nature to strategic leaders. The ability to think critically is the foundation for everything else. Someone who accepts what he hears without question or research is bound to be led astray by false trends or dishonest employees. Critical thought is also crucial for the development of original ideas, and original ideas are the lifeblood of massively successful enterprises.
Leaders need to be capable of accurately predicting future developments, and that means they need to be especially well-informed about things that are happening in the present. They need to be forward-looking while placing value on their peripheral vision; innovations often arise from the most surprising places within an industry, and maintaining a large network of connections is key to ensuring that key trends are discovered while there’s time to capitalize on them.
Comfort in the Unknown
It’s human nature to dislike ambiguity, but good leaders need to be comfortable with making decisions when not everything is known. A leader who hesitates is seen as weak, and he loses the respect of those beneath him. That’s why he needs to hone his senses so that he knows how to weigh the risks and rewards of the actions his organization could take, and once he’s done that he needs to be able to accept the outcome regardless of what it is.
The most important trait of any leader is adaptability. It doesn’t matter if a strategy fails as long as it leads to improvements in the future. Leaders need to push beyond their personal comfort zones and absorb as much information as possible. They need to be able to synthesize their knowledge into workable theories that strike a chord on an emotional level with their employees. They need to know when to compromise and when to stand firm. It’s hard to achieve the right balance, but there are no limits to profit and progress once it has been accomplished.
Kelly Smith is an avid education blogger. If you enjoy filling leadership roles, you may want to look into strategic leadership programs such as those offered by New England College and University of Connecticut.