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I’ve spent most of my life being attracted to leaders.

I’ve had the good fortune to meet a lot of them. From Henry Kissinger to the 8 year old who decided which of several paths through the woods 20 of us were going to take to the skating rink last New Year’s Eve.

I’ve seen waiters intuit who of the 8 people at the table of business colleagues had called the get-together, and on whose agenda the dinner would move forward. I’ve seen bus tour guides corral 75 drunken travelers into a bus in under four minutes.

And each of those encounters have made me laugh inside (and sometimes outside) observe with a sense of wonder, and try to find some common themes amongst all these individuals.

What I’ve also learned is that while yes, a lot of leaders are born with a natural inclination towards it, most people with an awareness of the attributes most people are more likely to follow, can learn it. I’ve seen people grow into it, I’ve seen people get comfortable with it, I’ve seen people learn to think like leaders.

I’ve also seen examples where someone carries a business card, has an office, and the support staff that clearly demonstrates to the world around them that this is a person with some authority and dare I say “ leadership ability shy away from assuming the role. It’s almost like they’re uncomfortable with it.

And what I have learned is that people want to be led, but there aren’t enough people who want to lead others. Even leaders want to be led, although a strong leader is probably looking more for inspiration than leadership.

The rank and file also adore their leaders, they admire the qualities that the leader has that they do not yet posses, they see the potential they see for example that someone can stand in front of a room of 300 people and live to tell about it. “Phew, that didn’t kill him, fantastic, maybe I’ll give it a shot.”

So what then, if any are the common elements I’ve found in leaders that excite, inspire, transform, the people, the cultures, the world around them.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. Pride

They are proud of what they do and put a great deal of effort into doing it well. I’ve seen coffee shop owners that are prouder of what they do than Creative Directors of globally recognized advertising agencies. It’s not what they do; it’s the attitude with which they do everything.

If Gay Pride were Gay Humility, do you think gays and lesbians would have made the inroads they’ve made in the past 10 years?

Leaders are proud.

2. Just Be It.

Those that are born with a natural inclination towards leadership, aren’t consciously being leaders or behaving in a way that they believe leaders should behave. They’re just doing what they do, expressing what they feel they need to express, saying what needs to be said. They’re not thinking of the leadership impact or long term implications of a decision made now. They’re just clear on what they believe, who they are committed to being and moving forward from that place.

Now, developing the soul of a leader is going to take some practice for you, so you’re going to be hyper-aware for the first while until this becomes second nature to you, until them, like learning any new skill, you’ll have to be paying attention.

3. Commitment

Leaders live by their word, they do not make promises lightly, but when they do, they’re iron clad. They’re not afraid of the word ‘no’. It’s not a dirty word to them, it’s an honest word. They don’t substitute ‘try’ in its place. They make specific commitments that they can be held accountable to. They don’t say, ‘Soon’, they say, ‘Next Wednesday’.

4. Purpose

They have momentum. And their momentum creates an energy around them that makes things happen. They are in forward motion whether towards the implementation of an idea, the achievement of a goal, or the realization of a dream.

Now don’t confuse motion and momentum with physical activity and endless to-do lists. Motion and momentum can have an energy around it that might not require moving a muscle – it may just be about what they’re thinking – but it’s more about where they’re thinking is, than what they’re doing.

5. Vision

I know, if you read another vision statement that you can’t believe took a three day offsite to generate, you’ll _________. What leaders do with the ‘vision’ you’ve all heard at every company you’ve worked that others cannot do is THEY CAN CREATE IT. They can turn a vision statement into the necessary steps to take and in what sequence to bring into the present a future they can clearly see.

Leaders live in tomorrow, can see a picture of the future, and can translate it into action.

6. Integrity

There is alignment in a leader’s ideals, vision, actions and communication. Period.

7. Emotionally Tough

This is probably the most difficult thing for non-leaders to do. Endure the disdain of a few for the benefit of many. A leader believes the many must prosper first. A leader understands that he will prosper last, if at all, because really it’s not about prosperity for a leader, it’s about being true to himself and what he stands for.

How many times have you worked for a company where 200 people know that one person is undermining the efforts of all 200 people, but the person in charge (notice I didn’t say leader) won’t take action against one individual to benefit 200.

8. Courage.

I recently read an article in Fortune magazine that said the CEO of today is expected to be courageous, where the CEO of yesterday was expected to be charismatic. I agree. With the communications industry changing (to what no one really knows) leaders must be able to step into the unknown and be willing to step into the dark.

A courageous leader inspires courage in those around him.

I believe courageous people are not those people who are not afraid I believe they are just as afraid as everyone else – but move forward anyway.

Here’s a great catch phrase I once read: Do one thing every day that scares you.

9. Will

Leaders are goal oriented and work towards defining goals in their personal and professional life. Leaders usually feel a huge sense of isolation, and receive very little praise for a job well done but don’t kid yourself, they need to be recognized as much as you do, it’s just that most people don’t think that’s the case.

I think leaders set goals for themselves as a way of measuring their success, as a way of having a mini-mental-yay-for-me party

10. Gut

Not guts, gut. They have a well developed gut or intuition created by years of mistakes, failures, learning, observation, and remembering what happened the first time. They heed it, make decisions based on it, often in the absence of empirical data sometimes, they even move forward based on gut, then wait for the data to support the decision probably gut is the culmination of all the previous points I’ve discussed.

11. What Does He Think?

Probably the greatest indicator of who the ‘real’ leadership in an organization might be whose opinion is sought by all levels of the organization – and from all touch points with the organization. Leaders can swing opinion, develop consensus, shape strategy. Why are they in this position? Because they are not afraid to tell you what they really think, use the word ‘no’, and are committed to themselves, their success, your success, the company’s success and know the three are inextricably linked.

~ heidi