7 Unmistakable Traits Of Highly Influential Leaders

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“I just can’t seem to get people to truly understand,” she said. “I feel like I’ve tried everything. I tell them they need to be better. I tell them what they need to fix. And, they just don’t respond.” These words came from a woman who was recently promoted. She was now leading a department of nearly eighty people. “I feel like I’m failing.”

I’m a nice a guy. I really am. But, as I spoke to this woman, and inquired about her leadership style, I felt an immediate disconnect between who she was, and who she thought she should be as a boss.

“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “Tell me about the three most influential people in your career.”

She thought for a second, and then began telling me stories about the people who helped her, motivated her, and influenced her to become the person she is today. Her stories were heartfelt and inspiring.

“When my bosses spoke, I listened,” she exclaimed. “Why won’t my employees listen to me?”

“That’s simple,” I responded. “You’re different than your employees simply because you had better leaders.”

While those words may sound harsh on the exterior, the woman immediately understood my point—that she was trying to be a boss, instead of being an inspiration. And, this conversation made me think about the many thousands of leaders I’ve interviewed throughout my career. Which were the most influential, and why? Which leaders built the strongest cultures? Which seemed to create the most loyal following—sometimes dragging their teams from one organization to the next? Those are all great questions. And, from my experience both working for many eclectic people, and interviewing many of the top executives in the world, here are the 7 unmistakable traits I’ve seen amongst highly influential leaders.

1. They’re good storytellers. Think about the most influential people in your life and career. They either had a great story, which inspired you to be like them, or they told great stories about people you wanted emulate. Basically, these people were interesting to you because they were interested in allowing a good story to impact you—to make you see yourself as the protagonist of a great story, and improve yourself accordingly. They, quite frankly, believed in you.

2. They understand the other people who played a role in their success. The best leaders, more often than not, will give credit to the people who helped them become who they are. Sometimes they’ll tell stories about people who inspired them, and other times they’ll tell stories about people who taught them “what not to be.” Either way, they’re giving credit to others. They understand that they didn’t achieve their position without the help of others. If you want to be great, start by recognizing the people who helped you get to where you are today.

3. They’re unafraid of disagreement. The best leaders are quick to disagree. And, they’re also the people quick to seek disagreement. Great leaders understand that disagreement can achieve greater thinking and results. And, they don’t see disagreement as arguing. They see it as productive brainstorming. If you want to be influential, find people who have the nerve to disagree with you. Respect their opinion. Honor it.

4. They actually care about purpose—your purpose. The concept of purpose gets tossed around frequently in today’s corporate world. Of Course, your organization has a purpose. But, when I ask people about the most influential people in their lives and careers, I’ve never heard the answer, “They convinced me to believe in their purpose.” Instead, I’ve heard, “They truly understood where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do.” Your job as a leader isn’t to convince someone to change. It’s to convince them that they should become the best version of themselves at work everyday.

5. They actually care about people. Words and actions are two very different things. You know this. I know this. The most influential leaders actually care about the person, and the bottom line. How does that work? Well, it’s simple. Most likely you have past leaders in your life who have, for some reason, stayed in your life. And, I would bet that these are some of the people you think of as your most influential leaders—whether you moved on, or the company no longer needed you. The most influential people in your life care about you whether you’re creating monetary value for them or not. 

6. They don’t care when they’re being watched. You might get surprised from time to time. However, the most influential people in your life are probably the most likely to act the same inside of the workplace, as they do outside of the workplace. They’re real. They’re honest about who they are—with all their strengths and weaknesses. And, you would bet money on the fact that they are the person you know whether someone is watching or not. That’s called integrity. It’s called transparency. And, if you want to be influential, it’s invaluable.

7. They understand criticism can be the ultimate act of kindness. We all live in an oversensitive world. And, here’s the rub. When you look back at your own life and compare your worst leaders (the people who made you feel belittled), to your best leaders (the people who made you feel empowered), they both had the same goal—to make you better. What’s the difference? Great leaders approach others with kindness—knowing that they’re cheating themselves, the company, and you if they can’t communicate how truly great they think you could become. Criticism isn’t mean. It’s a belief someone can do better. The words you choose make all the difference in how someone perceives it.

When you’re a leader, influence is your job. But, unless you understand that influence is also your opportunity to positively change the course of someone’s life, you’ll never be great.

Choose to be a positive inspiration. As a leader, it’s the most rewarding and influential thing you can do.

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“I just can’t seem to get people to truly understand,” she said. “I feel like I’ve tried everything. I tell them they need to be better. I tell them what they need to fix. And, they just don’t respond.” These words came from a woman who was recently promoted. She was now leading a department of nearly eighty people. “I feel like I’m failing.”

I’m a nice a guy. I really am. But, as I spoke to this woman, and inquired about her leadership style, I felt an immediate disconnect between who she was, and who she thought she should be as a boss.

“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “Tell me about the three most influential people in your career.”

She thought for a second, and then began telling me stories about the people who helped her, motivated her, and influenced her to become the person she is today. Her stories were heartfelt and inspiring.

“When my bosses spoke, I listened,” she exclaimed. “Why won’t my employees listen to me?”

“That’s simple,” I responded. “You’re different than your employees simply because you had better leaders.”

While those words may sound harsh on the exterior, the woman immediately understood my point—that she was trying to be a boss, instead of being an inspiration. And, this conversation made me think about the many thousands of leaders I’ve interviewed throughout my career. Which were the most influential, and why? Which leaders built the strongest cultures? Which seemed to create the most loyal following—sometimes dragging their teams from one organization to the next? Those are all great questions. And, from my experience both working for many eclectic people, and interviewing many of the top executives in the world, here are the 7 unmistakable traits I’ve seen amongst highly influential leaders.

1. They’re good storytellers. Think about the most influential people in your life and career. They either had a great story, which inspired you to be like them, or they told great stories about people you wanted emulate. Basically, these people were interesting to you because they were interested in allowing a good story to impact you—to make you see yourself as the protagonist of a great story, and improve yourself accordingly. They, quite frankly, believed in you.

2. They understand the other people who played a role in their success. The best leaders, more often than not, will give credit to the people who helped them become who they are. Sometimes they’ll tell stories about people who inspired them, and other times they’ll tell stories about people who taught them “what not to be.” Either way, they’re giving credit to others. They understand that they didn’t achieve their position without the help of others. If you want to be great, start by recognizing the people who helped you get to where you are today.

3. They’re unafraid of disagreement. The best leaders are quick to disagree. And, they’re also the people quick to seek disagreement. Great leaders understand that disagreement can achieve greater thinking and results. And, they don’t see disagreement as arguing. They see it as productive brainstorming. If you want to be influential, find people who have the nerve to disagree with you. Respect their opinion. Honor it.

4. They actually care about purpose—your purpose. The concept of purpose gets tossed around frequently in today’s corporate world. Of Course, your organization has a purpose. But, when I ask people about the most influential people in their lives and careers, I’ve never heard the answer, “They convinced me to believe in their purpose.” Instead, I’ve heard, “They truly understood where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do.” Your job as a leader isn’t to convince someone to change. It’s to convince them that they should become the best version of themselves at work everyday.

5. They actually care about people. Words and actions are two very different things. You know this. I know this. The most influential leaders actually care about the person, and the bottom line. How does that work? Well, it’s simple. Most likely you have past leaders in your life who have, for some reason, stayed in your life. And, I would bet that these are some of the people you think of as your most influential leaders—whether you moved on, or the company no longer needed you. The most influential people in your life care about you whether you’re creating monetary value for them or not. 

6. They don’t care when they’re being watched. You might get surprised from time to time. However, the most influential people in your life are probably the most likely to act the same inside of the workplace, as they do outside of the workplace. They’re real. They’re honest about who they are—with all their strengths and weaknesses. And, you would bet money on the fact that they are the person you know whether someone is watching or not. That’s called integrity. It’s called transparency. And, if you want to be influential, it’s invaluable.

7. They understand criticism can be the ultimate act of kindness. We all live in an oversensitive world. And, here’s the rub. When you look back at your own life and compare your worst leaders (the people who made you feel belittled), to your best leaders (the people who made you feel empowered), they both had the same goal—to make you better. What’s the difference? Great leaders approach others with kindness—knowing that they’re cheating themselves, the company, and you if they can’t communicate how truly great they think you could become. Criticism isn’t mean. It’s a belief someone can do better. The words you choose make all the difference in how someone perceives it.

When you’re a leader, influence is your job. But, unless you understand that influence is also your opportunity to positively change the course of someone’s life, you’ll never be great.

Choose to be a positive inspiration. As a leader, it’s the most rewarding and influential thing you can do.

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