To be a leader, you have to attract and motivate followers. This is true in business, politics, media & entertainment, non-profits, institutions — even families. Any type of group dynamic. Who leads the pack? Why?
Early in my career, I spoke on this topic at a skills development conference for women. Here are some talking points from my office archives — inspired by Michael Korda’s brilliant Newsweek column How to Be a Leader. Korda referenced political leaders. In my talk, I shared business and career examples.
You might have the best abilities and intent, but if you can’t get anyone to follow — or listen to your ideas — your talent will never be fully utilized. What does it take? Here are 10 key traits.
1. Timing. The leader must appear on the scene when people are looking for leadership. Possibly a newly-created opportunity or an existing role where the predecessor was not effective.
2. Great Simplifier. A leader can cut through the argument/debate. Deliver a straightforward, potent message. Offer a solution everyone can understand.
3. Look like a Leader. Must have a commanding presence. Not necessarily tall, but greater-than-life. An unforgettable identity — permanently fixed in peoples’ minds. Today, we would call it a brand.
4. Able to Do Something Others Can’t. We don’t want leaders to be “just like us.” They must be better, special — but not too different.
5. Mediagenic. TV/video magnifies everything. If you fail on camera, it is hard to recover.
6. Know how to Use Power. A leader must show that ability. Have smoothness and inner confidence.
7. The “Grace of a Good Dancer.” Followers seek someone relaxed, confident. Purposeful stride. Hearty laugh. Affability.
8. Know People Can Be Led Only Where They Want to Go. The leader follows that path, but a step ahead.
9. Understand the Yearnings of the People. This is different from needs. Match the peoples’ mood. Focus their energies and desires. Make what people want seem attainable and important — within their grasp.
10. Dignify Our Desires. Understand the desire for glory, importance.
Leaders must fit with the nuances of the times. This content reflects an 80s vibe. Interesting to see that those who came up in that era can still command a platoons of followers.
GE’s Jack Welch is on the circuit with wife Suzy connecting with avid crowds of students and young careerists. Microsoft founder Bill Gates is channelling his billions to philanthropy — working alongside wife Melinda to improve education and world health. And Donald Trump is shaking up a U.S. Presidential election!
The underlying principles still sustain — whether it’s a product, service or a person. A cause or a phenomenon. If the leader has followers, it’s what people like and want. The key is to sustain — and therein lies the challenge.
August 5, 2015