The real difference between a leader and a “leader”

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Anyone who has ever held any sort of professional position knows that the gap between leaders and supposed “leaders” can be vast. From horrible self-serving bosses, to never-ending nagging nellies, the ways in which a leader can suck the living life out of you seem endless. But, would you believe if we told you there are some strong, qualifying factors that separate merited leaders from wannabe “leaders?” Here are just a few signifying factors that your leader is a real leader who has what it takes to lead a crowd.

A real leader inspires

Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek says it best, “There are leaders and there are those who lead.Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us.  Whether they’re individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to.” Real leaders have the capability to inspire all types of employees, with all types of backgrounds, and in all types of positions. Real leaders have the ability to start with and articulate the “why” better than other so-called leaders.

A real leader makes room for mistakes

A real leader sets aside any potential fear or shaming of errors and understands that without mistakes, humans don’t have the ability to be open to generating new ideas or processes. Put best by researcher Brene Brown, “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”

A real leader is judgement-free

There is nothing more hindering to a productive work environment than the feeling of being judged. Be it for your ideas, values, or otherwise, being on the receiving end of judgement from your leader can wreak havoc on progress. As Brene Brown states, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” A real leader stands on the same stage as his or her employees and views everyone through a judgement-free lense.

A real leader provides a true sense of belonging

Stanford assistant professor and social psychologist, Gregory Walton’s research published in 2007 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology demonstrated that a sense of social belonging can affect motivation and continued persistence, even on impossible tasks. As so, employees following a leader who makes them continually feel like they belong are more likely to hang in there when the going gets tough.

A real leader leads by example, not with power

This is the most obvious and cliche of the “real leader” behaviors, regardless, it’s an important one: real leaders lead by example. The key here isn’t just that leaders lead by example, but the real power is in the delivery — and frequency of such behavior. Real leaders find every opportunity daily both small and large, to do the tasks that have to get done, regardless of their importance.

Real leaders are hard to come by, but the impact that a great leader can make is profound. Even “naturally born” leaders struggle to develop the skills that take them from ordinary to extraordinary. Finding a mentor, being mindful, and living in the pursuit of constant development are all ways that you can ensure you will be a well-respected and valued leader.


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