When you think about leadership, what comes to mind? Calling the shots? A bigger paycheck? The corner office? The respect of others?

While all these things can be perks of leadership, these things must be earned. Leadership is more than simply a position or title. Leadership is about specific competencies. It’s about being a specific type of person and handling situations in particular ways.

These competencies and qualities aren’t genetic. Rather, they are carefully developed by taking specific, repeated actions.

If you want to be an effective leader, you should immediately begin developing these particular aspects of your life and work.


Professionalism is a highly variable term depending on your work culture. If you work in a loose culture, you may be able to wear jeans and a t-shirt to work. If you work in a bank, you may be required to wear a suit and tie.

Regardless, effective leaders develop an appropriate sense of professionalism. This shouldn’t be confused with being snooty or condescending. Rather, it means taking your work seriously, hitting deadlines, respecting others, asking others to respect you and more. It’s primarily a way of being as opposed to a way of dressing.

These attributes can be formed through the way you dress, speak, attend meetings, respond to requests and a host of other ways.

Management consultant Peter Barron Stark says:

It’s important to note that professionalism can be completely unrelated to competence. You may be the very best at executing on the technical competencies of your job, but totally lack any semblance of professionalism. Professionalism has less to do with what you do in your job (the results you produce) and a lot more to do with how you produce those results.


Determine if there are any ways in which you are unprofessional. Don’t simply analyze the way you dress. Do you punctually attend meetings? Do you respond in a timely manner to your coworkers? Do you meet deadlines? Do you stay relatively and appropriately organized? These all represent ways to grow in professionalism.


Effective leaders understand that they don’t have the time or skills to complete every task. They also are keenly aware that scaling a business requires a team, not a solopreneur.

Leaders understand how to delegate. They don’t feel the need to micromanage every task or check in on their charges every twenty minutes. They ask key people to do tasks and then trust them to accomplish them. Yes, there will be a time for updates and status reports, but the person also needs the freedom to accomplish that task.

Business magnate Andrew Carnegie said:

You must be a lazy man if it takes you ten hours to do a day’s work. What I do is get good men and I never give them orders. My directions do not go beyond suggestions. Here in the morning I get reports from them. Within an hour I have disposed of everything, sent out all my suggestions, the day’s work done, and I am ready to go out and enjoy myself.

While this advice may be a tad extreme, it does show how a man made millions using delegation.


Begin delegating small tasks immediately. If you’re not in a leadership position, begin asking for help from those on your team and then get in the habit of following up on those requests. This will teach you to delegate without actually delegating a task to someone whom is not your charge.


Leaders are able to see a goal and then chart a clear path toward that goal. They don’t set vague goals such as, “Get better at solving customer problems.” They establish clear objectives, such as, “Reduce the number of complaint tickets by 40% within 6 months.”

In addition to establishing goals, effective leaders map out the steps necessary to hit those goals. These benchmarks provide milestones for the team to measure progress. If the team is hitting the milestones, they know they’re on track. If not, they adjust accordingly.

Leadership guru Jim Rohn says, “Goals. There’s no telling what you can do when you get inspired by them. There’s no telling what you can do when you believe in them. And there’s no telling what will happen when you act upon them.”


Begin setting goals in your personal life. These goals should be concrete and have a set date by which you’ll achieve them. Monitor your progress on these goals closely. If you fail to hit them, determine why and then set new goals accordingly.


Failing to communicate clearly leads to massive problems for both leaders and those under them. Goals are missed, people are frustrated, problems are overlooked, misunderstandings are frequent and general chaos rules the day.

The ability to communicate clearly is absolutely essential for every leader. A leader should be able to communicate clearly in every medium, from speech to writing to even chat messages (such as Slack or Skype). Those who lack this ability often create more problems than they solve.

Again, to quote leadership expert Jim Rohn:

Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.


Learn how to speak and write effectively now. End emails with simple questions—”Does this make sense?”, “Am I being clear?”—to ensure that the other person understands what you’re saying or asking.


Great leaders make time for those under their charge. They learn to make space for conversations about challenges people are having as well as how to offer helpful solutions to those problems.

Effective leaders also learn to listen well. They don’t jump to solutions before they fully understand the problem, nor do they dismiss problems as unimportant. If leaders don’t listen, they won’t be trusted. When people don’t trust their leader, the work suffers dramatically.

Time management expert Stephen Covey offers this helpful insight: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”


Begin honing your listening skills with those around you. If you’re already a leader, begin setting aside specific times only for conversing with those under you. If you’re aspiring to leadership, ask your fellow employees if there are ways you can help them on the job. Listen intently to their problems before thinking of replies.


Few things are more demoralizing than achieving something notable and not having anyone notice. This is even more painful if it occurs on the job and your superior doesn’t thank you or appreciate what you’ve accomplished.

Effective leaders recognize the achievements of those under them. They honor them both in private and in public (in appropriate ways). These honors don’t have to be extravagant—even a simple thanks or encouragement is often enough. It’s the recognition that matters more than anything.

Sales expert Zig Ziglar says, “Research indicates that employees have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company” (emphasis added).


Begin immediately recognizing the achievements of those around you. These achievements don’t need to be large to be worthy of recognition. Something as simple as hitting a deadline is worth complimenting.


Too often, leaders are intense and overly serious. Yes, there are objectives and goals that must be hit. Yes, work should be taken seriously, and those who don’t often create problems.

But the best leaders also maintain a sense of joy in the way they go about their work and lead others. They understand that all work and no play makes for a dull, uninspiring workplace. Effective leaders take steps, both small and large to bring happiness to those under them.

Karen May, VP of People Development at Google says:

Imagine a world where most organizations were the best place to work. Imagine what we could be getting done on the planet if it were true…it’s less about the aspiration to be number one in the world, and more that we want our employees and future employees to love it here, because that’s what’s going to make us successful.


Consider how you can begin encouraging the happiness of those around you. These steps don’t need to be extravagant. Something as simple as bringing bagels to the office several times can have a dramatic effect.


Effective leadership skills must be built. Leadership that does not flow out of someone’s character is typically ineffective and often downright disastrous.

The good news is that if you take specific, small, concrete actions, you can begin developing these leadership skills immediately. You don’t even need to be in a position of leadership to develop work on honing these attributes.

Yes, leadership must be earned, but the skills learned make it worth the effort.


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