What does it mean to be a leader?

Many people consider a leader is a person who holds an authoritative title like President, Vice-President, Coach, Mentor. Others reserve their picture of a leader for those they view as successful; an actor, a businessman / businesswoman, doctor, and so on. The fact of the matter is that none of the personas above define true leadership.

Husband, dad, mom, wife, co-worker, or friend are also leaders. You are leading your family, being a role model for your children, setting an example for those around you, or offering advice to someone who really needs it.

Although we are all leaders in our own right, there’s one thing you need to consider. Before you can truly lead anyone else you need to lead yourself. Commit. Take Charge. Just do it. Be Strong. Suffer. Be Humble. These phrases are only powerful if you are applying them in your own life and leading your own success.

Here are a few leadership behaviors to consider:

Walk the Talk.

Are you willing to take weight loss advice from an overweight person? How about taking financial advice from the somebody who is always asking to borrow money? Or parenting tips from someone who has never raised children? These are all examples of walking the talk. A true leader is willing to practice what they preach. When coaching someone toward a 2000m row, how can you authentically tell them they need to bear down during that last 500m if you haven’t? Authenticity will generate trust, and people will naturally follow who they trust. By walking the talk, you have experienced what you are saying and you know what it feels like to fail then succeed. It is only then you can share these experiences with authenticity with those around you. By walking the talk your advice will hold water.

Master your Language.

Language is powerful. Language consists of your words and how you project those words with your body. Volumes have been written about this subject, but I’m still surprised how many people don’t practice mastering their language by choosing the right words at the right time, and ensuring that their body language matches the words coming out of their mouth. Mastering your language takes time and concerted practice. As a leader, your language can inspire or it can tear down. Can you recognize when either is happening? Are you watching your language close enough to learn from your successes and failures? For example, you gave your client words of encouragement while rolling your eyes at the same time. Your client just likely discounted your words as inauthentic, and you just lost their trust. Your words said one thing, and your body said another. In addition, as a leader you need to know when to give words of encouragement, and when it is appropriate to give critical feedback. Say you are coaching someone through a difficult effort, and they fail at the effort but you can tell they gave it their all. In this situation your words of encouragement can be inspiring. However, if you know they didn’t give it their all you need to choose your words a little more carefully. Words of encouragement toward those that aren’t fully committing may not be as powerful, and can serve as a crutch. In this situation you may want to consider providing words of advice and feedback, because you’ve ‘Walked the Talk’ your words are authentic. Remember, you are not doing anyone any favors by not sharing feedback to help them grow.

Embracing failure to prime future success.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 23 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” ~ Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan understood that it takes embracing failure to ultimately lead toward success, and that is one reason why he was a great basketball player and considered a great leader of his team. We will all fail at many things throughout life, but what matters most is that we learn from failures and make adjustments toward success and try again. Those around you will ultimately fail at some point. As a leader, you can help them embrace that failure. Pick them back up, dust them off, and give them the coaching they need to succeed when they try again. Create an environment where failure is an accepted path toward success, keep moving forward until you succeed.

Be aware of the Curse of Knowledge.

We have all worked with or coached someone that just doesn’t get what we are saying. They don’t understand what you are trying to convey, and you believe that you are communicating very clearly. Or worse, they nod their head in understanding and walk away not having a clue. It would be easy to place some blame on that person that they just don’t get it or they aren’t smart enough. The more likely truth is that you are suffering from the Curse of Knowledge. When you are suffering from the Curse of Knowledge you assume that others know the things that you do, or that others know the path you have taken to learn what you know. This can lead to bias for you to believe that people understand you better than they really do.

Here are a few tips to overcome the Curse of Knowledge. 1) Recognize when you are falling into the curse of knowledge trap. This is the first step, if you aren’t aware of the curse of knowledge you are bound to stay in it. 2) Put yourself in others shoes. When communicating it is extremely important to know your audience, know your clients, know your children, know your employees. When you understand where people are at with their knowledge it will help you tailor your message to something they can relate toward. 3) Get some feedback on your communication style. Reach out to someone you trust and bounce your approach off them, ask them to give you some feedback on your style. Sometimes you just might be stuck in a blind spot and not see what you are missing in your communication. 4) Connect with stories. When you put a lesson or learning into a story that connects with your audience it is powerful and memorable. People remember stories, it allows them to take a concept they already know and apply it to something new.

Malcolm Gladwell postulates in his book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master any given skill. Fortunately, you always have an opportunity to practice leadership behaviors. You can Walk the Talk with anything you do. You are constantly using language to communicate with those around you. Review your actions and you’ll find there is always an opportunity to assess your successes / failures and adjust accordingly. And lastly, you can always put yourself in someone else’s shoes to see if you are being blinded by the Curse of Knowledge. You always have a choice to practice improving your leadership behaviors. Start today and you’ll be closer to that 10,000-hour mastery mark sooner than you think.

This is obviously a short list of leadership behaviors you can practice to take control of your own behavior in order to improve your leadership abilities. Spend some time to assess yourself against these behaviors or have the courage to look within and see what other behaviors you should improve upon to step up your leadership game.


First published on the Gym Jones Salvation Site