leaders go firstThere are many styles of leadership just as there are many situations that require leadership. At one end of the spectrum of leadership there are aggressive, autocratic individuals like George Patton and Margaret Thatcher. On the other end, there are leaders like Mohandas Gandhi and Mother Teresa whose styles are characterized by empathy and empowerment. Most leaders have a style that is somewhere between these two extremes.

This isn’t to say that any style is better than any other style, but for any given situation, there are styles that are more appropriate and productive. Gandhi’s style would not have been appropriate for a post D-day march across France. Patton’s style would not have been the right style for the Indian independence movement. Leaders must understand their style and make sure it is appropriate to the situation.

Regardless of leadership style there are certain things that all leaders must do and things they must avoid in order to be successful.

Go first

This does not mean the leader is physically out in front of a line of people who follow along. Leaders go first by having a vision of what must be accomplished, what the goal is, how a situation must be transformed to create a new situation.

Leaders are often the ones who are first to give voice to an idea or vision when such thoughts are still unpopular and subject to opposition or ridicule. Leaders will take small actions to test the waters of the times to determine how well their vision may be received.

First and foremost, going first means leading by example. The first task of a leader is not just to tell what must be done, but to show how it must be done.

Know when make a move

Often, leaders will wait until the timing is right before making their move just as Martin Luther King waited for a catalyzing event like Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus before pressing the accelerator of the American civil rights movement to the floor.

Many would-be leaders have launched their movements too early and failed. Leaders who are committed to success patiently test the temper of the times and make every effort to ensure success for their cause. Great leaders balance their zeal with caution and vigilance in crafting the strategies they wish to pursue.

Don’t ask for permission

Leaders do not wait to be appointed or ask for permission. Leaders know what they must do and they set about doing it. Leaders do not ask for authority or permission, but through the example of their actions receive both from their supporters.

Leaders begin their leadership from where they are; they do not wait until they have been vested with the approval of some external administration.

Allow mistakes

Leadership is about change, and change is messy. Experienced leaders know that nothing ever turns out the way it was planned and that there will be stumbles and mistakes along the way. They choose strategies that are flexible and adaptable rather than rigid approaches and formal frameworks.

Leaders don’t try to control every aspect of the work that they are attempting, but allow supporters to contribute and bring to the cause their talents and skills as well as their weaknesses.

Serendipity and chance are sometimes seen as significant contributors to the success leaders. Leaders are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to further their causes. This is why strategies that allow leaders to adapt with agility are often essential to success.

Raise the barraise the bar

Leaders expect more of people than people willingly demand of themselves. The causes that require leadership also require extraordinary commitment from more than one person. Raising the bar brings the leader’s role full circle back to going first. The leader must raise the bar within before being able to credibly raise the bar and expect more from others.

A big part of raising the bar is establishing values and standards for appropriate behavior. Many causes have failed because their leaders were not willing to hold themselves to the standards they spoke about in public.

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Leaders are, when all is said and done, human beings. They are burdened by all the frailties and flaws that have hampered humans since the beginning of time. Just as leaders must acknowledge that their supporters are human, they must also acknowledge that they are  just as likely make mistakes. It is the human aspect of leading and leadership that makes it seem so complex.

At its heart, though, leadership is incredibly simple. Go first. Just do your best and in so doing, inspire others to do their best. If your style is right for the situation and your vision is right for the times, you will be recognized as a leader.


Today’s guest contributor is Ivan Serrano, a business, finance and social media journalist living in Northern California.

Image sources before quote:  Shutterstock | http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-131437046/stock-photo-fishes-in-group-leadership-concept.html?src=QXVycNt7–RuyO-FbvnHLQ-1-3&ws=1 | http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-94604302/stock-photo-missed-turne.html?src=&ws=1