How to Lead

Three Parts:Rising to the TopLeading Your Team to SuccessBeing an Effective Leader

Exceptional leaders ask questions to gain insights, set direction, put the right people in the right positions, and ensure resources are allocated to the highest priority, all the while engaging people to stretch beyond what is comfortable to maximize results. And they do it ethically! It all sounds quite challenging, but you probably know you're a leader by now. Time to channel your energy!

Part 1
Rising to the Top

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    Be a seer. Alright, so you have the set-up. You're part of a group that needs some direction. However, in order to become the leader your team needs, you need to have a vision. Be a seer. Be able to identify what needs to happen. See what would light that spark to get your team's creativity pumping. Recognize how individuals work.
    • A good leader sees the "next big thing." When the computer was invented, Steve Jobs saw the iPhone. When Justin Timberlake and Usher logged onto YouTube, they saw Justin Bieber.[1] Once you see the next step, you also gotta see how it might come about. How can your team, specifically, maximize their potential? Who is good for what? What potential problems might arise?
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    Be patient. You cannot become a leader in a microwave. You must become a leader in a crock-pot. In other words, these things take time. You gotta be patient. You gotta work your way up that ladder. There will be very few environments where you can walk in, say "I'm here!" and casually take charge. And if you can, you seriously need to question why!
    • No leader is a good leader who hasn't been led. You must be a follower before you can be a good leader -- or you won't understand thing one about your team. You would never elect a president who has never been a citizen, right? The same sentiment trickles down the levels of leadership. If you don't know what it's like being part of the team, you can't really lead it. So be patient, do your time, and it may come.
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    Show strength. If there's only one other thing a leader must have besides vision, it's strength. No leader has even risen to the top without a backbone, without drive, without their heads held high, without believing in themselves. Show your team that you can tackle the world head on and leadership will come unquestioned.
    • There's a difference between strength and arrogance. There's a difference between a leader that knows he's suited to lead and a leader that thinks he's the only one suited to lead. Your character needs to be strong, you need to be sure in your decisions, and you need to be confident, but that doesn't mean you don't recognize the abilities of your team (and your own inabilities at that).
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    Assume you have no power. Sounds kinda funny, but it couldn't be more true. The leader that basks in their power, clinging to it, will have none in time. Assume you have none and you'll be more persuasive (because you have to be), you'll be able to relate to your team more (you're on the same level), and you won't go power-crazy (you have no reason to). And remember this: you only have power because your team allows it. They could take it away in no time. So, who really has it, anyway?
    • Being a good leader isn't about authority. It isn't about control and it definitely isn't a power trip. It's about your team's accomplishment. If you have to take a step back for everyone to be happy, jive, and reach their potential, then so be it. A good leader is only a good leader when their power is understood. It's not shouted on the hilltops or displayed like a modern-day Versailles. It just is.
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    Establish a team-wide goal. To be a leader, you have to have a team that's working toward something. If a team isn't accomplishing anything, they're just a group of people in one place, hopefully enjoying each other's company. There needs to be a clearly-defined goal, that everyone is a part of. In leading, you help determine just what that goal is.
    • Make sure everyone is clearly aware of what they're working toward. If someone doesn't understand, they'll get on the path to accomplishing something else! Each person needs a duty that maximizes their worth and makes them an integral piece of the proverbial pie.
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    Look in the mirror. Here's a fun little exercise you could try: create a list of all you wanted to accomplish in the past year. Then go through that list and check off what you actually did accomplish. Hand that list to a friend and ask them if they would hire you. If they would consider you a go-getter, someone that gets the job done. What's the verdict?
    • We're often quite crappy at seeing ourselves how we actually are. Take a look at the list. Does it accurately reflect how you view yourself? What weaknesses does it bring to light? What strengths? Ask that same friend what you-on-paper proves.
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    Identify a leadership void, if need be. If you're part of a team that's running smoothly and all of a sudden you grab hold of the reins, trying to lead...well, you're cruisin' for a bruisin'. In order to lead, there must be a team that needs leading. Otherwise you're just a dictator seeking power needlessly. So wherever you are -- be it on a class project, on the basketball team, or in the office -- recognize what the situation is. Is no one stepping up? What's the situation? Is there a void at all?
    • No team operates efficiently when there are too many chefs in the kitchen; too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Those are sayings for a reason! Luckily, when the team you're on is running around like chickens with their heads cut off, it's pretty hard to ignore. You'll know a lack of leadership when you see it. And then you can fill the void!

Part 2
Leading Your Team to Success

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    Use combinational chemistry. If Helen Keller were on your team, you wouldn't assign her to start making phone calls, you know? You're not gonna assign Lennie to watch over screaming, dramatic teenage girls. You're not gonna hand Voldemort the Elder Wand. People (read: your team) have individual strengths (and weaknesses). It's your job as a leader to put them where they need to be. Where they're most useful. It's your job to recognize that each person has value. It's your job to ignite that chemistry between people and their efforts.
    • Since you're leading, you're also (presumably) delegating. So let Helen read, write and inspire others. Let Lennie take care of the rabbits. Have He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named work on the recruitment side of things. Let everyone maximize their potential -- they'll be happier and you'll be happier, too.
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    Manage expectations. If you're running for President of the United States, it's a bad idea to have your slogan be, "EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE PERFECT IN 2016!" It's just not going to happen. You cannot lead your team with the expectations that everything will go swimmingly and everything will always be totally awesome. No. You gotta be real. You gotta be positive, but you gotta be real. Let your team know what's down the road. You're the seer, after all.
    • It's important to handle expectations on a macro and micro level. You need to check-in on the team level and on the individual level. Does everyone know what their own obligations are? How does that fit into the bigger picture?
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    Handle your opposition carefully. With any focus-driven team, there's bound to be people who disagree and there's bound to be people who disagree with you. There will be those who think they should be leading, there will be those who just don't like your style, and there will be those who just plain think your team should be going in a different direction. This is normal. Your job is to get them on board.
    • In most cases, this will be the minority (if it's the majority, you'll probably be ousted). The other two groups will be those who are behind you and those who really could go either way. You need to take those who are behind you and light them with a fire that can't help but spread to others. If you do it right, the rest will wonder why they're wasting so much time being difficult!
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    Think outside of the box. This sort of goes along with the "be a seer" thing, but it needs to be happening constantly. Your vision for your team needs to morph as you make progress -- what seems right one day may seem incredibly wrong the next. So as the clock ticks, as you get further and further into your efforts, think outside the box. What could be done that you're not doing that could make it even better?
    • Often people rise to their position. Meaning those who are under you may be full of good ideas, but they don't really say anything or they don't grow them fully because they don't feel like it's their place. Make sure to hear everyone out, regardless of their status. They may have that notion that sets a light bulb off in your head, who knows?
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    Stay ethical and fair. A good leader is one who is respected, and you can't be respected without being ethical and fair. Your team may not seem like they're watching you, but if you falter in your morals, they will take note. If you play favorites, they will take note. If you cut corners, they'll take note (and follow suit). So if you want your team to play nice, you should be playing nice, too.
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    Give your team a sense of purpose. When you're factory worker #142, it's easy to lose sight of your importance. You may have a group of people that all feel like they don't really matter, whether they say it or not. When that happens, productivity (and success) natural rests at a minimum. You can avoid that by giving them purpose. Let them know what they're doing, why it's important, and how it will affect people. Pay attention to them. Let them know you're paying attention. If you care, they're more likely to, too.
    • Remember, you're a leader, not a boss. You're not just ordering them around. Heck, a monkey could do that. You're there to get the most out of them, regardless of circumstance. So be genuine with them. If they like you at all, they'll want to do their job. If they don't, they'll leave the first chance they get.

Part 3
Being an Effective Leader

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    Be a role model. In order to be an effective, good leader, you can't live by the mantra, "Do as I say, not as I do." You have to set forth the example you want your team to adhere to. If you don't, why should they cooperate? Why would they succeed? If your team is going every which direction, you're not much of a leader. So be the role model they need to show them the way.
    • Even if you don't think you're a role model, you are. You're in a natural position for it. Some leaders are more like friends, some are more like bosses (and yet some others are more like dictators), but they're all role models. Your team looks up to you. Use your powers for good!
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    Be fluid and adaptable. No one can predict the future. Computers get pretty good at predicting trends, but they still can be very, very wrong. Because of this, it's of utmost importance that you stay adaptable to change. Imagine if Apple stopped after its first computer! If Ford stopped after the Model T! If Britney stopped at "Baby One More Time!" Society is constantly changing and you (and your team) have to change with it.
    • This probably makes more sense for a long term leader, like the president of a company or captain of the football team. But even school project leaders have to be receptive to change! If Pedro has a better idea than what you're currently doing, you need to use it. If Jane doesn't show up to school, you gotta pick up her slack. Even small obstacles present to opportunity to show that change will not deviate you from your course of awesome.
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    Be a mentor. On the whole, people crave leadership. They prefer not making their own decisions (that way they can't really be held accountable when it all hits the fan) and using other people to light the way. Because of this, you're in a natural position to be a mentor. Use your powers for good! When someone comes to you for advice, help them out. After all, a good leader breeds more good leaders!
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    Don't buckle under opposition. Mike Tyson is credited to have said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."[2] Truer words never spoken, Mike. When you get "punched in the mouth" (meaning someone rocks the boat, rises up against your leadership, etc.), what are you gonna do? Go with the motion of the ocean? Or drown?
    • The correct answer is the first one, by the way. All good leaders face opposition. All of them. Think Nelson Mandela had it easy? Mother Teresa? Morgan Freeman? It has nothing to do with how good you are and everything to do with your position. There will always be haters. Always. It just means you're doing something and you matter. It's a part of leadership.
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    Prepare your team and prepare yourself. A simple example would be if you're preparing a talk for a large group of people. Not only do you need to have your speech down, know what tools you need, who's all going to be there, but your team (in this case, possibly your audience), needs to know the drill, too. What will you be talking about? How can they do a little research in their own time? How can they equip themselves to be of use? When everyone's ready, things go a lot more smoothly!
    • Of course, some obstacles can't be prepared for. This is inevitable. But you can prepare for a bumpy ride -- and that's with expectation monitoring. If everyone goes in knowing it's not gonna be easy (but hopefully it'll be worth it), you can avoid the heavy sighs, the heads shaking, and, well, quitters!
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    Step out of situational conflict. This is just good common sense. If Joni and Judy are fighting over the last staple, just stay out of it. They're probably actually fighting about something else, and that's not your domain. You do not have to handle your team's personal lives. If it doesn't have to do with work, just remain a neutral party. It's in everyone's best interest.
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    Show appreciation. When your team is doing stellar work, let them know they're doing stellar work. When all the cogs are turning, bask in it. Let your team bask in it. Point out the hard work you're seeing around you. Because you know what? You sure couldn't do it all on your own. As a good leader, you'll recognize that this is a team effort and everyone's part matters. Everyone deserves appreciation.
    • It's best if it's genuine appreciation. A phony leader who plasters a smile on their face won't be listened to for long. Find something about everyone's work that you can commend. And then commend it. If you can't, either you need to open your eyes or they shouldn't be part of your team!


  • It's best if you're an expert in whatever it is you're doing. If you don't know the answer to a question, be honest, tell the questioner you don't know, and then go find out!


  • Don't let being a leader go to your head. If it does, it won't last long.

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