10 Keys to Unlock Your Leadership Potential

We all revere great leaders. There’s a certain poise, a certain distinguishable trait we cannot quite put our finger on that defines each one. In short, extraordinary leaders have a presence about them. An aura they exude. Something many of us have often dreamed of for ourselves.

So we finally climb the ladder or start the business, and see the title at the cusp of our desk. Unsure of exactly what our specific leadership style is going to consist of, we ponder to ourselves, “Now what?”

After beta-testing a few different strategies — instances we recall from our past coupled with ambiguous ideas from online articles or books— we still feel out of place. Something’s off. And then we think back to those extraordinary leaders.

The distinction of those leaders we admire so much is they know who they are. They are secure in their way of being. Although some of their attitudes and practices seem linear, each leader is wildly unique.

Here’s ten simple recommendations for realizing your own leadership truths from someone who’s fallen flat forcing the issue himself:

1. Don’t be someone you’re not

Who you are is more important than what you do.

This first one is fairly simple. If there’s a massive gap between who you are as a leader and who you are with everyone else in your life, you’re doing it wrong. No one is buying that. Worse, you may not have any pioneers on your team at first with enough moxie to call you out on it. Get out in front of this prior to halting progress before it even beginning.

“There is no persuasiveness more effectual than the transparency of a single heart, of a sincere life.” 
— Joseph Berber Lightfoot

2. Ditch the trumpet call

It’s not about you.

Leadership is anything but self-promotion. It’s ugly sometimes. And the one responsible will bear the greatest of turmoil — which is you. If you opt to make it a trumpet call for your own insecurity, said turmoil will multiply.

Save yourself the chagrin and plug away for the good of the organization, not the good of your professional image.

“No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it. “
— Andrew Carnegie

3. Be human

You don’t have all the answers and you’re going to make mistakes.

Despite great leaders being very secure in who they are and what they stand for, they don’t have all the answers. And they don’t pretend to, either. One of the most noble acts a leader can do when presented with a question they are unsure of, is admit they don’t know and direct the team member to someone else in the organization who does.

Anyone can leverage their title and make something up. Only the strongest of leaders realize the title is made up and they will only be defined by their actions.

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”
― Mother Teresa

4. Have an open mind, but stand for something

Let your values serve as a guide while you receive new ideas.

Leadership is a giant contradiction. You must have an open mind, or you’ll suffocate the growth of the business and the team as a result. On the other hand, a mind completely wide open without any compelling beliefs won’t inspire anyone.

Being open-minded communicates to the team you believe everyone else’s ideas added together are better than relying solely on your own, which accelerates the breeding of trust. Being passionate about your core values communicates the vision is worth investing in and seeing it through.

“One of the best paradoxes of leadership is a leader’s need to be both stubborn and open-minded. A leader must insist on sticking to the vision and stay on course to the destination. But he must be open-minded during the process.” 
— Simon Sinek

5. Get grounded

Resist the urge to surf your emotional waves. It’s a big swell out there — stay ashore.

Leading is not for the timid. It’s not for the faint of heart. And it’s certainly not for someone who cannot manage their emotions.

Perhaps the most valuable trait a leader can have is the ability to remain grounded in their emotional state. A powerful baseline level is required for the challenging trials of team leadership. A leader that simply rides the waves won’t remain a leader for very long.

The team looks to the leader for guidance. They look to the leader for the example of how to act. An erratic leader makes for an extremely erratic team, which most likely cannot produce even marginal results.

Expect everything as a leader. Expect everything to go wrong but also expect everything to go right. Once again, this is a paradox. Be ready for everything to hit the fan and be excited for your team to produce massive results, both financially for the organization and character-defining for themselves.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
— Charles Darwin

6. Keep your communication H.O.T.

Honest, open, and two-way.

A successful company culture is contingent upon the same thing a successful relationship is built upon: healthy communication.

While the quarterly conversations and annual reviews certainly have their place in an organization, it’s the informal, spontaneous conversations that often have the greatest impact.

Pulling a team member aside simply to check in on their well-being, what’s happening in their life, and their satisfaction level at their job scream care. It shows a true, authentic investment in that of the employee — one of which will be extremely difficult to walk away from, even with the most enticing of financial opportunities looming elsewhere.

“Communication is the real work of leadership.” 
— Nitin Nohria

7. Invest in yourself

The leader is the choke-hold. Keep progressing.

Perhaps the greatest gift personal development gives a person is the ability to get outside of themselves and understand the true impact they have on others. Introspection sheds a massive light on a person’s most relatable truths. 

This doesn’t happen without an inquiry, however. Questioning what you do and why you do it is just as — if not more important — than reading the books and listening to the tapes. Feed your mind every day to continue to make a difference for others, as well as yourself.

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” 
— Albert Einstein

8. Love your craft, but love your people more

Acknowledge twice as much as you request.

People go through life waiting to be recognized. This is the human condition, as the need for significance and contribution is as real as the need for food.

As the leader, you have this power. The ability to let people know they’re valued. Their work means something. What they do and who they are doesn’t go unnoticed.

This possesses a far greater impact done one-on-one. This is where the one-off, spur-of-the-moment conversations carry so much weight. Executed timely and effectively, a five-minute acknowledgement can equal another 5 years of tenure or, in a personal setting, friendship.

The affect is that profound.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
 — Maya Angelou

9. Honor your word.

It’s all you have.

Great leaders are dependable. When they say something is going to happen, it happens. Their word carries immense weight. Their word is as interchangeable as their physical body and when they say they are going to do something, they do it.

They won’t always keep it — no one is perfect and they’re consistently reaching beyond their grasp — but they will always honor it. Never is their word swept under a rug hoping to be forgotten about.

Integrity matters. It’s an IV for hope.

“Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet — thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing — consistently.” 
— Lance Secretan

10. Create more leaders.

There’s enough followers.

CFO asks CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and they leave us?”

CEO replies: “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

A business is transformative. It’s never going to be completely stable. There will always be ebbs and flows, regardless of its prowess. It is with this in mind, that there will always be a shortage of leaders. You can never have too many. Better you develop someone to the point where they outgrow your organization because you don’t have a way to advance them any further than to suffer a human capital crisis — which hemorrhages funds like nothing else I’ve ever seen. The ripple effect cannot be overlooked.

Create your legacy and protect the future.

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” 
— Harvey S. Firestone

Bringing It All Together

As I had mentioned before, I experienced many trying times on my path to realizing my authentic leadership. My persona was all sizzle and no steak. The team didn’t believe in me, and whatever results produced were a sheer product of talent and luck — often at a price far too great to continue paying. 

Wrapping my head around these ways of being helped me break through. By honing in on these ten key points of real and effective leadership, you pave the way for miracles to ensue.

Simple, every day, miracles.