Like a Boss: Six Defining Characteristics That All Effective Leaders Have in Common

By Dixie Somers

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The desire to lead isn’t rare—plenty of people have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and want to start their own business or become a CEO one day. However, successful leadership isn’t for everyone. What then, makes an “effective leader” effective? There are several paths to success, but many of the world’s best leaders share a number of the same characteristics. Take a look at a few of the defining attributes that many of today’s leaders possess, and that any aspiring leader would do well to emulate:

They Practice Patience

For every successful business venture, there will be ten others that fail. Whether you are starting your own company, leading a fundraising project, or managing your own team, you can’t expect success right away. You must be willing to wade through the not-so-fun stuff before you taste success. You also need to be willing to put the required time and effort into a project in order to be an effective leader. Warren Buffet is a prime example of a business person who takes his time. He’s conservative when it comes to trading, and his patience has proven beneficial - he’s been steadily winning at business for quite some time now. Whether it is having patience with those you are working with, patience to launch your business idea at the perfect time, or patience to wait out the first year of a rocky startup—all successful leaders need patience.

They Go the Extra Mile

A job description is just the bare minimum of what you can accomplish in your position. Over-delivering is something a lot of startups do, but the idea seems to get lost as a company grows. Brad Smith from Intuit has continued to run his company with the same attention to his customers and risk-taking as when it was just a startup, and his company now has $4 billion in revenue. We often start out in leadership positions with a lot of passion and attention to detail that somehow gets lost along the way. Sure, you’ll want to evolve and improve as you move up the ranks or become an effective leader, but never underestimate the pay-off of going the extra mile.

They Go with their Gut

As a leader, you often have to go with your gut and trust yourself when it comes to big decisions. Jeff Bezos created the idea of predictive analytics, which recommends products to customers based on their search history online. At the time, this was a somewhat new idea that nobody was doing quite yet, but that defined the future of online retail. Good leaders have intuition when it comes to their business, the people they are leaving, or any of their endeavors. Don’t go power-hungry and assume that you will never go amiss, but remember that if something doesn’t feel right—there is probably a reason. Don’t give up on the things you feel strongly about just because you are a pioneer in your industry, or just because others can’t see your vision quite yet.

They Have a Sense of Humor

It’s necessary to keep your sense of humor when problems and challenges arise, and all leaders will experiences road blocks at some point or another. Indra Nooyi, the head of PepsiCo, is fun at heart despite being so business-minded. She’s known to sing karaoke at corporate get-togethers, which is no surprise since she played guitar for a rock band in college. Among the many inspiring characteristics that all good leaders share, the best leaders never lose their personality—they allow their unique quirks to fuel their creativity, making them even better leaders. While good leaders don’t slack off, don’t forget to laugh, smile, and relax every once in a while.

They Never Stop Reaching

An effective leader is never complacent with their leadership—they never set their efforts to auto-pilot. No matter how long you have been a leader for, it is important to continually seek to learn, improve, and change in order to be a better leader tomorrow than you were today. Howard Shultz, the CEO of Starbucks, has built a wildly successful business, but that hasn’t stopped him from continually looking for and investing in new ventures. It is important that you don’t get busy with so many projects that you don’t give proper attention to any of your followers, but it is also important to never lose your passion for leadership and improvement.

They are Decisive (Even When Making Tough Decisions)

As a leader, you’re going to have to make decisions practically every day - big decisions, small decisions, decisions you’re not 100% sure of. Not only will you have to learn to “go with your gut,” but you must remember that a wishy-washy leader will never be effective. When Anne Mulcahy was chosen to lead Xerox, she decided to reduce the workforce by 30% and the then got rid of the full desktop portion of the company. There’s no doubt that these choices were difficult to make, but her decisiveness played a key role in her success. Be willing to make the tough decisions, and once you’ve made your decision, don’t go back on your word. Even if people are against you or disagree with you, it is important that you can confidently and decisively make smart decisions.

In our society, leadership is often synonymous with power—just remember that not all leaders are powerful, or effective. By adopting the characteristics above, you can strive to be an effective leader that can influence change, successfully lead people to a common goal, and inspire those who follow you. The information for this article was provided by the professionals at the University of Cincinnati who provide a master’s degree in educational leadership.  


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