The Act of Leadership: What Do Leaders Do?


Your actions speak so loudly, I can not hear what you are saying. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve written recently about the things a leader sees and the things a leader says. But it’s hard to ascertain the true measure of a person by what catches their eye. And anyone can come up with a great quote or two. What makes great leaders stand out is the sum of their actions. In short, you know someone is a leader by what they do.

Here are a few of the observable traits of effective leaders.

1. Leaders decide the direction. We’re each faced with a thousand decisions each day. Some are more critical than others. But some decisions affect lives other than just our own. When it comes to making the big decisions – the ones that impact customers, coworkers, and the future of the organization, leaders don’t hesitate. They instinctively know what the right thing to do is and they do it. Leaders step up and make the right call.

2. Leaders act with intention. Leaders see the promise of the future, and they communicate that vision regularly. Leaders also visualize a clear path to that vision. So when a leader acts, you can be sure there’s a reason for it. There’s an agenda. It may not always be readily discernable, but it’s there. Watch a leader long enough and you’ll start to see the master plan take shape. Leaders plan their work and work the plan.

3. Leaders serve as an example. I have three kids. I try to remind myself that they are always watching me. They see everything I do – the decisions I make, the way I respond to circumstances beyond my control, and how I treat other people. They follow my example and emulate my actions. Knowing this, I try to make sure that my example is a good one. Leadership is a lot like parenting. Leaders act knowing that others are watching and learning from their example.

4. Leaders equip others for success. I’ve said many times that I believe the number one responsibility of a manager is to develop those they lead. Ultimately, the job of a leader is to produce other leaders. Because the impact of a great leader is not felt in their presence, but in their absence. So leaders actively seek out resources that will help their team grow stronger. They look for opportunities to delegate responsibility. And they celebrate when the leader in others is revealed. Leaders participate in the education and growth of those around them.

5. Leaders let others lead. No man is an island. And no leader has what it takes to succeed in every circumstance. Strong leaders understand their own limitations and are comfortable with taking a back seat from time to time. That’s because leaders don’t focus on their own egos. They focus on achieving the vision. When someone else is better equipped to take point, strong leaders respond by following. Leaders happily step aside and others lead where appropriate.

This list could go on. There is no end to the list of positive things that leaders do. One thing I know for certain though, is that leadership is not a passive activity. Leading requires action – in a very real sense, leading is action. How will you lead this week?

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