The 5 Habits of Effective Leadership

Mike Malatesta is an author, podcaster, entrepreneurial advisor, and recent guest on the EO 360 podcast with host Dave Will. Mike helps entrepreneurs get unstuck, take back their power, and create the futures they want. We asked Mike about the essence of effective leadership. Here’s what he shared.

Like most things in life, effective leadership is the consistent application of a series of habits that determine how we show up and what people can expect when we do. And while there are many habits that weave together the fabric of the leader you are–or can be–I believe that the five habits described below form the solid base on top of which the rest can be layered and supported.

Be Calm

Some situations genuinely warrant a leader going berserk. For example, preventing a serious and imminent accident, or other kinds of extreme emergencies come to mind.

In business, thankfully, these kinds of situations are rare and infrequent. For all the “normal” types of emergencies, I’m convinced that remaining calm (at least on the outside) is always the right approach. Things will go wrong, sometimes very wrong. When that happens, it’s usually apparent to everyone and not something that only the leader sees. People tend to know when there’s a snafu. It might feel very “in charge-ish” to blow a gasket at these times but it doesn’t help much.

Conversely, remaining calm can help significantly. Not only to defuse the situation but also to make the snafu appear manageable, because almost all are. Staying calm conveys that the situation is just another thing we can handle. In other words–business as usual.

Be Real

I don’t understand when people are celebrated for being authentic or vulnerable. I don’t have much affinity for either word because the word “real” is the one I think all leaders should invest in and aspire to be. After all, shouldn’t that be who and what we are all the time? Real.

You don’t give up anything by being real and you don’t gain anything from being anything but real.

As leaders, we’re not actors playing a role. We’re just us. Different from one another, but real to ourselves and everyone we lead. Being real should be the bargain that we make with the world. It’s what we owe it. It doesn’t take any special effort to be real, but the rewards accrue in droves.

Be Curious

Nobody likes a know-it-all. In my experience, too many leaders pretend to be just that. And I sort of understand why: It’s often the case that leaders know more than their teams or other people in the room.

The leader likes being right–and isn’t afraid to pretend he or she is–especially when surrounded by their hand-picked team of “Yes” folks. I know this because I’ve acted that way myself, more often than I’d care to admit. But I’ve made the most progress as a leader at times when I’ve asked my team questions and then got quiet.

After all, the team is there for a reason, and it’s not to do what I say. It’s to be challenged and to contribute. That outcome won’t happen if I tell them what to do. However, it may happen when I ask them how they might do it.

Be Present

If I’m willing to ask, then I also must be willing to shut up and listen. To slow down and be present. I know it’s hard. There are a lot of distractions and other matters demanding our time. But giving your presence and full attention is the most important and valuable thing you can bring to a person.

It’s also what they deserve from you. Put your phone away, turn away from your computer, make eye contact, and be where you are. Like Mikey from those long-ago Life cereal commercials, I bet that if you try it, you’ll like it.

Be Decisive

A leader’s job is not to make all of the decisions. But when a specific decision made by the leader is necessary, it needs to happen. Thinking it might get better on its own or that people will forget they’re owed a decision is a gamble you’ll usually lose. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and people don’t forget.

Action takes a stand and sends a message. People respect that. Inaction sends a message, too–just not one that people respect.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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