What Makes a Strong Leader?

Whether you occupy a leadership role within your professional life or would simply like to be more authoritative in your dealings with other people, understanding what makes a strong leader can go a long way towards improving your own skills in this arena.  Here’s what you need to know to increase your own leadership potential:

Element #1 – Understanding your followers’ motivations

The first key element to becoming a strong leader is understanding more about the people you’d like to lead.  If you’re a manager, this obviously requires gaining a better understanding of your subordinates.  On the other hand, if you’re trying to create a leadership position for yourself, you may need to think a little harder about who specifically falls into the group of your intended “followers”.

Once you have this group in mind, try to understand more about their motivations.  Do your followers tend to be more aspirational or risk averse?  Do they make decisions based on what will benefit them most or what will prevent harm from occurring?

Of course, within a group of followers, you’ll likely have people at both ends of these spectrums.  In this case, try to get a feel for the balance of your group.  Are they equally distributed between aspirational personalities and risk-averse followers?  Or do they tend to fall into one category, with a few outliers going in the opposite direction?

If you’re struggling to determine which camp your followers should be placed into, try listening to the words they use.  If you hear a follower using the words, “achieve,” “goal” or “earn,” you’re likely dealing with an aspirational personality.  At the same time, if you hear someone using the phrases, “avoid,” “reject” or “risk,” he’s likely more motivated by the desire to avoid harm.

You can also ask your followers directly what motivates them, although this generally works better in established relationships (for example, as a boss addressing an employee) than in situations where you’re trying to position yourself as a leader.  Asking an employee open-ended questions – for example, “What about your job is most important to you?” – should provide you with enough evidence to determine how each follower prefers to be motivated.

Step #2 – Using authoritative body language

If you’ve studied NLP for any length of time, you know how important body language is.  As your outward actions typically reflect your internal thoughts, it’s vital that you control your body language in order to demonstrate your role as a leader.

A few of the specific behaviors you’ll want to keep your eye on include your posture, vocal inflections and self-conscious touches.  A leader should demonstrate proper posture and use a firm, yet commanding tone of voice.  This isn’t the time to be timid, so role your shoulders back and practice speaking in a confident and authoritative manner.

At the same time, force yourself to be aware of any subconscious behaviors that project self-consciousness to your followers.  People who are self-conscious tend to touch their hair, faces and clothing frequently, which conveys a sense of doubt and insecurity to others.  In order to be taken seriously as a strong leader, focus on getting those fidgety fingers under control!

Step #3 – Engaging your followers’ attention

As a leader, you have two choices when it comes to communication styles – talking at your followers or engaging their attention to promote positive behaviors.

Guess which one’s more effective?

Chances are you’ve encountered a leader who uses the “talking at” approach.  Maybe it was a teacher in high school who insisted you do what you were told, or a boss who followed the “what I say goes” style of leadership.  How well did you respond to that?  Unless you’re the most submissive person on the planet, this style of leadership likely inspired resentment and resistance – not loyalty – with you.

Instead, strong leaders lead by engaging their followers.  Typically, this is done by asking questions that encourage your followers to take ownership of their actions.  As an example, instead of telling a lackluster sales employee that he needs to step up his game, asking, “What can you do to improve this situation?” prompts him to take ownership of his own performance.

Of course, to be recognized as the leader in this situation, you’ll need to pick up key elements from your employee’s response that can then be used to encourage positive behavior.  With practice, you’ll find that it’s easy to use your followers’ responses to uncover their hidden motivations and interests, allowing you to turn these elements around and manage your followers more effectively.

Developing your leadership skills takes time, but by practicing these techniques – including understanding your followers’ motivations, demonstrating authoritative body language and engaging, rather than talking down to – you’ll soon receive the recognition you deserve as being a strong leader.

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  1. Pingback: 10 Great Lessons from 10 Great Leaders

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