Leadership is overrated, don't you think? Successful, visionary, sharp, smart, C-level executive, business person - these are few of the images the word 'leader' invokes in our modern times. But there are so many more definitions of leadership than this. Leadership is not just confined to the professional world.
Leadership is a trait that anyone can develop and display in any situation, both at work and beyond. Mahatma Gandhi was a real leader when he rallied an entire nation to oust the British using non-violence. Martin Luther King Jr. was a true leader when he combated racial discrimination and segregation. More recently, Malala Yousafzai stood up for human rights and female education.
But the independent farmer who stood up against the big giants in the food world, or the bullied kid in school who taught other kids how to survive through tough times, or the father who parents his kids to make the right choices and help others - these are also leaders in their own right.
You don't have to be an activist or lead a nation to make a difference and be a leader in your family, your community, your workplace, and a ton of other places. Here are 50 simple things (in no particular order) that you can do today to be a real leader in your own way and in your own setting.
1. Prioritize effectively - A commonly known principle by the philospher Praeto is that 20% of actions produce 80% of results. That means that you should spend the vast majority of your effort on those actions that will produce the greatest outcomes. Real leaders identify these actions and prioritize them regularly.
2. Say "no" - As a people-pleasing society, we have difficulty in saying "no" to one another. But learning when to say "no" when appropriate decreases the amount you have to do each day and leaves room for the important things.
3. Be in the moment - A critical skill that you must cultivate to be a real leader is to focus on what's going on right now. Instead of constantly fretting and worrying about what is to come, be in the moment and enjoy doing what you're doing. Worrying too much about the future can only cripple your progress.
4. Meditate at the start of the day - The simple act of focusing on your breath and clearing your mind before your morning kicks off helps you to lower stress and handle it better through the day.
5. Build relationships - Real leaders know and understand the importance of building relationships over plain networking. The art of building relationships is a must know.
6. Set goals - Goals help you strive towards something. You may or not meet the goal or may move towards a different path as you progress towards your goal. Goals help you move forward.
7. Read - Books, newspapers, and articles open your mind to new thoughts and ideas. Step out of your normal reading habits and read about new topics. Constant exposure to new thoughts and ideas help you deal with situations outside your comfort zone.
8. Give back - The people that surround you, whether it's your team or your significant other or anyone you work with, help to support you in your leadership efforts. Give back with praise, with your time, and with your best efforts.
9. Be willing to learn - Real leaders are always open to learning new things as the need for new knowledge arises. They are eager to explore and research to get the information they need, and they adapt their new learnings to their own lives.
10. Possess self-awareness - Real leaders are aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Understanding yourself is important to leading others. It helps you focus on augmenting your strengths and making up for your weaknesses with the help of your team.
11. Give credit - Real leaders lead from behind. Appreciate others and give credit where it is due. That inspires loyalty, admiration, and hard work your their peers.
12. Speak up - Leadership means you speak up in conversations. Don't choose to be a bystander. If you have an opinion that will make a difference, share it. Debate and discussion draws the best ideas to the forefront.
13. Volunteer - Real leaders care about people and are passionate about a cause. Find something that moves you and give back to your community. Start your own charity cause or donation drive - it doesn't have to be a massive undertaking, but any effort helps and shows leadership.
14. Use LinkedIn actively to meet and connect with other professionals who can help your business, can teach you something new, or can have a great conversation with you.
15. Admit your mistakes gracefully - Real leadership requires the ability to know when you've done wrong and accept responsibility. People who scapegoat others or don't own up to their flaws fail to lead by example.
16. Take care of yourself - Real leaders know that their body is the vessel to carry them to success, and they do their best, from exercising to eating healthy and getting enough sleep, to keep themselves fit and healthy. After all, it's hard lead if you're constantly feeling weak or ill.
17. Get active outside your comfort zone - Go zip lining, try a salsa dance class, learn to cook, take an improv class, go hiking, play board games - do things out of your ordinary routine. New experiences go a long way toward keeping your mind sharp.
18. Improve your communication skills - Take speech classes or join an improv group if you see the need to improve your public speaking abilities. A real leader needs to be able to convey their points concisely and rally people to their cause.
19. Learn from others, young and old - The older generation has tons of experience that you can learn from. On the other hand, young people are full of fresh perspectives and ideas. Spend time learning from both to learn how to approach situations with their perspective.
20. Show up - Even when you don't feel prepared, don't know the answers, or don't feel like it, showing up consistently is the responsible way to lead. Take these moments as opportunities to learn something new.
21. Honor your commitments - Show leadership by always keeping your word. Live up to the trust you earn by keeping promises and delivering on your claims. But make sure to only commit to things you can achieve.
22. Be decisive - Real leaders make decisions. That may be obvious, but a decision may not always be the right one. But leadership requires that you don't fall into the analysis-paralysis trap. Make a decision, and if it's the wrong one, learn from it and move on.
23. Start a gratitude jar - Every day, write a gratitude note and drop in the gratitude jar, expressing 1-3 things you are thankful for that day. It will help you stay grounded in the things that drive you.
24. Sleep uninterrupted for a minimum of 6 hours a day. Give their body and mind a chance to recharge so you can be efficient during the day.
25. Play games - Playing games, whether it's a complex console game or a simple mobile game, gets your brain thinking and problem-solving actively. Apps like Lumosity also have tons of brain training games you can take advantage of.
26. Invest in yourself - If you have the means, spend some money in continuing your education, getting healthy, or even buying some nice new business clothes. An investment in yourself today pays dividends both immediately and in the future.
27. Ask for help - Real leaders ask for help from a mentor or other resources as needed. They don't let their ego get in the way and are willing to admit they don't know something. Lean on the people around you and recognize their strengths.
28. Take risks - Leadership isn't about waiting for the perfect moment or inspiration to come. It's about coming up with an idea, giving it a bit of thought, and then running with it. Get it right in practice, and don't bog yourself down in theory or perfection.
29. Unplug from distractions - Unplug from technology and other distractions at the end of a hard day. This gives you a chance to reset and rejuvenate. That way you can get right back to work the next day, ready to lead by example with energy.
30. Surround yourself with strong people - "You are the average of the 5 people you spend time with" is another common saying that applies to leadership. It says that you should connect with and befriend individuals who can challenge you keep you accountable.
31. Listen to podcasts - In these modern times of insane commutes, it is inevitable that most of us spend a good chunk of time on the road. Use your commute to listen to podcasts. There are a variety of choices for skill-building, entertainment, brilliant stories, and many more. Find your favorites and spend those commute times wisely.
32. Watch a talk each day - Try to watch and learn from one talk on every day, whenever you have free time. TED talks are a great option, but plenty of other organizations have influential and knowledgeable professionals give talks regularly.
33. Take a long walk - Whenever possible, go for a brisk walk outside. It not only helps soothe and calm you, but can also provide inspiration and help you get past a mental roadblock. Find solace and solutions while connecting with the outdoors.
34. De-clutter your life - Clutter creates chaos in your brain. It reduces your mental capacity as your brain tries to make sense of the clutter around you. Do your best to simplify life and do more with less.
35. Embrace your inner child - Leadership isn't easy, and it can be very stressful. A great way to alleviate that stress is to get in touch with your young and childish side. Grab some crayons and an adult coloring book and get drawing. Have a fancy tea party with friends. Do whatever you need to settle your mind and de-stress.
31. Work with a coach - There are coaches for various things nowadays. Leadership coaches work with you specifically to improve your leadership skills. Career coaches help you chart out a course for your career. Find a coach that's right for the challenges you're facing in life.
37. Become adept at sifting through information - Real leaders master the art of sifting through tons of information to get the most value out of them. Learn to read quickly and digest a piece of work without having to comb through every detail. The more you read, the easier this gets.
38. Respect time - Time is valuable to all. So respect yours and others by being clear and concise. Start and end meetings on time and include only the relevant people in meetings.
39. Never give up - Stay persistent. The last mile could be the one that gets you across the finish line. Quitting too early can only lead to regret.
40. Never compromise on ethics - Rely on your moral compass, even if it means ruffling some feathers or sacrificing quick solutions.
41. Marry people to their strengths - Learn to judge people's strengths and give them the right tasks and responsibilities.
42. Open up - Show your vulnerabilities to those close to you. Sharing your passions and ideas is key for people to see that you are human, driven, and passionate. It helps them relate to you.
43. Include others - Include people in key conversations and decision making. This helps them take ownership and feel vested in the decision.
44. Forgive, but don't forget - Forgiving is key to your emotional well-being as a leader. This does not necessarily mean that you should forget as well. This ensures you are not a victim again and helps you learn from your past mistakes.
45. Laugh and lighten up - "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Smile, laugh from time to time, and loosen up. Life's not always about work, but about experiences beyond the job.
46. Have a Plan B or be able to come up with a Plan B quickly when needed. Leadership requires the understanding that your initial course of action might fail, and that you need to have a backup plan for any contingencies.
47. Ask the right questions - Effective leadership means you know when to ask the right questions. A well thought out question can reveal a lot about the way people think or the way things are working.
48. Adopt an open door policy - Always make time for others. Enable people to approach you with ideas, problems, and solutions.
49. Avoid playing the blame game - Things will go wrong at some point and the cause will be somebody else. In such situations, real leaders do not play the blame game or the name calling game. They instead focus on fixing the solution and using it as a learning opportunity for everyone.
50. Do not have a personal agenda. Instead, focus on a collective goal and a collaborative drive to success.