Earning the Right to Lead: Characteristics of a strong leader

Shutterstock / BeanImages
Shutterstock / BeanImages
Published On
Jul 15, 2022

I have discussed the traits and habits of leaders and managers, but not earning the right to lead others. It takes time and effort to earn others’ respect as a leader. Being an effective leader is not about getting others to follow you. It means guiding others to do more than they think they can to better the whole group.

Are you someone that others want to follow? Have you built trust? Will you be competent as a leader?

Life as a leader

It’s not easy, but you need to look in the mirror and honestly ask, would I want to follow me? Don’t be too hard on yourself, but do be honest. Look for ways to improve as a leader. It is easier to change our own approach than that of others. Demonstrating more confidence and credibility in a leadership role makes others want to follow.

You don’t need to be perfect. Many emerging leaders seek perfection over success, but good leaders admit when they are wrong and learn from their experiences. Showing vulnerability demonstrates that we are human, too, and don’t have all the answers. It shows employees and team members that it is OK to put themselves out there and risk failure. Success is about falling and having the perseverance to get back up and keep pressing toward the finish line, not about winning every time.

Be there for employees

Be there when workers fail, help them back up and encourage them to keep trying. This shows employees that you are personally committed to their success. People want to succeed, and, in my experience, they are hard enough on themselves when they make a mistake. They need someone to dust them off and give them the vote of confidence to keep going.

In construction, an industry known more for toughness and brawn than compassion and emotional intelligence, individuals who exhibit the latter tend to gain more followers than those who rule with an iron fist. I’m not saying to gather everybody for group hug after the morning stretch and flex before we hit the job site. But successful leaders realize they are there to serve their followers and help them grow as individuals. Truly seeing your employees for who they are and how their uniqueness contributes to the team’s success will lead to more wins.

You don’t need to be perfect. Many emerging leaders seek perfection over success, but good leaders admit when they are wrong and learn from their experiences.

Earning the right to lead

Earning the right to lead is more about character, integrity, compassion and communication than age, knowledge or experience. Stop and think about great leaders you admire. What do you remember them for? How smart they are or how well they dress? Probably not.

Those leaders I admire and model myself after are great communicators who are clear about the team’s goal. They pushed us all to do more than we thought possible and helped us believe in ourselves. They brought us all together to function as a team and used each individual’s talents to achieve success.

Also look at those who call themselves “leaders” but only have followers because of their job title. What are the characteristics of these negative role models? Maybe they set a clear goal for the team but have an underlying agenda for their personal gain. Or perhaps they never admit a mistake and seek to blame others. Everyone has been around these ineffective leaders. Perhaps they were in the right place at the right time and were put at the front of the line, and we were told to follow them. Model the opposite behavior from these people.

When trying to be the best leaders, aim to be the person others choose to follow, not someone they have to follow. Earning the right to lead through letting your guard down and being human can be challenging. We must have compassion for others, give them a hand when they are down and encourage them to keep going. Through character, integrity and leading by example, others will follow you through the roughest terrain, knowing you are leading them to the finish line.

For more, read Firestone’s “Is Your Eye on the Horizon or on the Map?” on page 70.

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