15 Life-Changing Leadership Lessons

Leadership Qualities

Whether you’re a CEO, director, manager, supervisor or trainer, being a leader is an important part of your role. But what actually makes you a good one? Many people go through their entire careers without grasping the true essence of what makes a great leader, while others seem to acquire them absolutely immediately.

It’s important to learn these lessons early on in your career in order to put them into practice and grow professionally. Here are 15 vital career lessons you’ll need to know to get yourself on the road to success:

1. Hire Smart People

A great leader has the ability to hire well-qualified and passionate employees and give them the reign to give their knowledge and opinions. You have your good leadership qualities, so hire people that will complement them and make your company even better. Steve Jobs made this a hiring practice at Apple, his motto being that ‘it doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.’

2. Talk Less, Listen More

Many authoritative figures believe that they should ramble on giving advice as they ‘know best’ but they never stop to hear what others have to say. This is a major flaw when it comes to being a good leader. Sir Richard Branson lists this as one of his top three priorities. He says: ‘Listening is one of the most important skills that anyone can have… [It] enables us to learn from each other, from the marketplace and from the mistake that must be made in order to get anywhere that is original and disruptive.’ In other words, you should encourage members at work to speak up and build their trust by showing that you have listened to their words through your actions.

3. It Takes Time to Be a Leader

Most leaders aren’t born overnight; it takes time to learn and develop the qualities that one must possess. Take Oprah Winfrey, for example, who grew from rags to riches through hard work and determination. She found her first job in media at the age of 19, learning the ropes until she was confident enough to start her own talk show and create her own successful television network almost a decade later.

4. Take Risks

How can you succeed in life without taking a few risks? Moving companies, changing your career or applying for that new position are all uncertainties that we take in order to prosper and do better. As a motivational figure, you’ll take a gamble hoping that it will pay off. This is exactly what fashion mogul Vera Wang did: she started off as a skater that didn’t make the cut for the Olympic team and then managed to nab the spot for Vogue editor-in-chief before moving on as design director for Ralph Lauren. Her newfound passion for fashion led her to take the leap and start her own brand, making her one of the biggest names in the business to date.

5. Don’t Stop Learning

John F Kennedy once said: ‘Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other’. Whether you’re learning how to work new computer software or reading about subjects outside of your day-to-day experience, you’ll be thinking of new ideas that are crucial for your position. If you continue educating yourself, you can remain inspired and teach your employees the knowledge that you have attained.

6. Learn to Delegate

When something is so important to you, it’s often hard to let go and give a piece of the pie to someone else to manage. However, with so much on your plate, you’re probably struggling to keep on track yourself. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, is well-known for delegating tasks to individuals and small teams that he knows have the skills to get the job done efficiently – effectively freeing his time up to think of the next bestseller for the online shopping platform.

7. Don’t Make Promises That You Can’t Keep

Some bosses make promises that they can’t keep in order to get on the good side of their employees – without realising that when they don’t follow through, they just get their backs up. We’ve all had that manager that assures you’ll get an amazing bonus at the end of the year, but the reality is that’s it’s such a small amount – one not even worth mentioning. A similar example was that of Steve Ells and Montgomery Moran, co-CEOs of the Chipotle food chain, who after a series of illnesses from their restaurant promised that it would be the safest place to eat now that it had implemented new food safety measures. Shortly after this promise, customers caught norovirus, leading to a federal investigation.

8. Don’t Let Competition Kill Your Creativity

In today’s society, you’re constantly faced with competition – don’t let this swallow you up trying to outdo them. You’re in a position of success because of your creative ideas and originality, so stick to doing what you know best. Philippe von Borries, cofounder of Refinery29, says: ‘When you go into comparing and contrasting, you don’t have creativity anymore. You’re only creating a different, maybe worse, version of your competition. It’s a zero sum game.’

9. Listen to Your Customers

Listen to your customers and allow them to develop your product and service. If you have a make-up line, for example, your consumers may not like the consistency of a product. If you don’t listen to them and make the changes based on their feedback, you’ll be setting yourself up to fail. Brett North, the cofounder of LE TOTE, says: ‘A lot of people assume they know everything when they are first starting out, but you have to remember to listen to your customers and have a genuine curiosity to keep learning.’

10. Encourage Your Team to Come Up with Their Own Ideas

In order to teach them to be great leaders, you must encourage your team to come up with their own ideas, like businessman Theo Paphitis, who frequently appears on Dragons’ Den). Paphitis surrounds himself with creative staff that can think outside of the box and offer him alternative suggestions – ones that he may not have already thought of.

11. Be Persuasive

Martin Luther King Jr once said: ‘A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a moulder of consensus.’ Effective leaders convincingly sell their vision and win over their audience with facts and passion. If you want to celebrate positive results, you need to have a strong message about why your path is the right one.

12. Stay True to Who You Are

It’s important to remain authentic throughout your career and your new powerful status. Ravin Gandhi wrote for Entrepreneur: ‘As time goes on, some leaders develop an artificial public persona which they believe is more “leader-like”.’ Take media mogul Mark Zuckerberg; he’s stayed true to his roots by wearing the same casual attire – what you see is literally what you get.

13. Manage Your Emotions

In any role, you should keep your emotions in check, just like Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. His key strength is being able to stay rational and make objective decisions. There are circumstances that will make you very angry, but try to keep your cool. If you receive an email that makes your blood boil, type a response but don’t send it; review it the next day and you will likely see that your reply was based on negative emotion and not appropriate. You’ll be grateful you never sent it when you’re compiling a logical and professional answer when you’re in the right mind-frame.

14. Never Stop Asking Yourself What You Can Do Better

You’ve reached your targets and then some. You’re ahead of this year’s goal, so time to relax, right? Wrong! You should never stop thinking about what you can do better – you should always be planning for the next step ahead. How can you outdo what you previously did? In his commencement speech at Harvard in 2007, Bill Gates said: ‘Determine a goal, find the highest-leverage approach, discover the ideal technology for that approach, and in the meantime, make the smartest application of the technology that you already have… The crucial thing is to never stop thinking and working.’

15. Ask For Advice

Yes, you may be at the top of the chain, but that doesn’t mean that you’re expected to know absolutely everything. If you’re unsure about something, it’s important to seek advice from other people. Ronald Reagan, the former President of the United States, was renowned for keeping a tight-knit team that he could trust and confide in when he needed another opinion. If he wanted something done, he would simply delegate the task to the people he trusted.

Combined, these leadership lessons should inspire you to grown and learn as a person and become an encouraging leader.

Have you learned any additional lessons throughout your working life? Let us know your story in the comment section below…