15 Things Leaders Do Differently

15 Things Leaders Do Differently

I want to ask you a very important question: how are you showing up every day?

I hope you are showing up as a leader.

One incredibly useful tool is a little self-reflection. It is easy to blame outside sources when things fall short or don’t go as planned. Now, don’t get me wrong, it could be other factors, but the truth is that you also have the ability to make things go right.

We all have the capacity to show up however we want. And as a leader it’s important that you are showing up everyday as a leader.

What Really Makes A Leader A Leader

I’ve always been amazed by the concept of leadership. I’ve spent a lot of time reading books, listening to podcasts, going to lectures & seminars trying to learn more about the qualities that leaders possess.

Awhile back, I was listening to a Ted Talk by Benjamin Zander about classical music. He was telling a story about the single-most-important characteristic of a good conductor.

He described how being a “good” conductor is dependent on the ability to make other people powerful.

Conductors are much like leaders. The conductor is essential to a beautiful symphony. And the leader is essential for harmonious execution to take place.

During this talk, Mr. Zander said something that made a light bulb come on in my head, “Leaders awaken possibility in others.”

When you are awakening possibility you will see “shining eyes”. It’s excitement, belief, and power that a great leader is able to activate in others.

I think Mr. Zander has it right.

While leaders serve many functions, the most important function of a leader is in their ability to:

Inspire others to take action.

That’s really the difference between the leader and everyone else—but in order to inspire others to take action, leaders have to do things differently.


 15 Things Leaders Do Differently

1. They set the example.

We’ve all heard that actions are louder than words. And they are. Your team is watching to see if you hold yourself to the same standards that you hold them to.  What’s more, they will learn quicker by seeing what you do rather than by hearing what you say.

Here’s some food for thought: Do you ask your team to be solution-finders but you constantly complain about how things won’t work? Do you ask your team to be positive but then talk negatively? Do you ask your team to be on time, but then arrive late?

Set the right example, and they will follow your lead.

2. They treat people like people.

When I first began my quest for becoming a leader, I knew that I didn’t want to just be a manager of people—in other words, telling everyone what to do.

Instead, I wanted to be someone who inspires people. Someone who people would want to follow.

It was during the beginning of this quest that I had a defining conversation with a very dear friend of mine. She was a highly-sought after manager, so I was curious about how she led her team.  What she unknowingly gave me was some of the most important advice I’ve ever heard. She said, “Always come from a place of compassion. After all, people are only people.”

In that moment, I truly understood that when you treat someone like a person the situation changes. It’s when you come from a place where you are concerned about them and not just yourself or the business, that they are much more willing to do things for you.

As people, we enjoy doing things for our friends and family because we know they care about us. Be the leader who cares and treats a person like the human-being they are.

This is about effectively communicating your expectations, having honest conversations, asking questions, and showing that you care.

3. They teach.

What do you think it means to be a teacher?

A big part of teaching is active listening. You listen, you repeat back what they said, and you ask questions. A teacher discovers what the person needs and they help them gain that.

As a teacher, you may be suppling your team with the tools they need. Or you may be the one who shows them how to do something.

A good teacher never just tells someone to do something. They take the time to help the person learn and understand.

When you take the time to teach someone, you are showing them that you care, that you believe in them, and that their contributions make a difference.

4. They allow people to fail.

When you look back at your life and consider the lessons that taught you the most, or where you experienced the most growth, it’s likely in situations where you failed.

If your team hasn’t had some “fails”, then they aren’t learning. If they aren’t learning, then you are lessoning your ability to make a bigger impact and ultimately stunting growth.

Stop trying to do everything yourself, and allow others to rise to the opportunity. Because they will.

Of course, be smart and don’t hand over the keys to the kingdom to a brand new hire. But you do have people on your team right now that you’re holding back because you’ve been too afraid.

One of my favorite quotes is about failure:

“If you’ve never failed, then you’ve never tried anything new.”

15 Things Leaders Do Differently


5. They acknowledge & eliminate self-imposed limits.

It seems to be a natural human instinct to fear and have self-doubt. We all have that. Everyone has those moments where they think that something cannot be done. And it’s ok to be human.

But don’t let fear be the thing that holds you or your team back from achieving greatness. Eliminate “can’t” from your vocabulary.

Acknowledge when you are allowing self-imposed limits to take control of your actions.

Here are some common self-imposed limits:

  • I’m not smart/good enough.
  • No one will want this.
  • No one will do this.
  • We’ve never done that before.
  • It can’t work.
  • That’s not possible.

If you want to do something you will find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.

Eliminate those self-imposed limits and you’ll be amazed.

6. They seek solutions.

It’s one thing to identify problems, but it’s another to go a step further and seek a solution. I believe that this ties beautifully into #5 above — it comes down to eliminating limits for the right mentality and creativity.

When you aren’t limiting yourself, you’ve opened the door to possibility.

In one of my favorite books, “The Magic of Thinking Big” by Dr. Schwartz, he talks about a group exercise that he initiates at his conferences.

He tells the audience that in ten years there are going to be no jails and no prisons. The group’s initial reaction is always the same.

They say it can’t be done and are upset that such an idea would even be suggested.

He, however, preservers and assures them that this idea is only hypothetical. He asks them just to play along and imagine for a minute that it is going to happen. Then he asks, “What things can we do that would make this work?”

Within a few minutes many people are raising their hands with ideas. As more people find possible solutions the room transforms into a melting pot of ideas, enthusiasm, and inspiration.

Now imagine if you met each challenge with that same solution-focused mind-set.

If instead, you found reasons for why or how things can work rather than why they can’t. Imagine if you brought creative solutions to problems.

I believe that your creativity will inspire others to do the same—just as illustrated in the book, creativity is contagious.

Be the leader who brings solutions to the table.

7. They stay positive.

There’s nothing that can kill team morale faster than negativity. You probably know someone who is super negative. It’s draining, right?

On the other hand, you may also know someone who is constantly up-beat, always has something nice to say, and gives you that warm fuzzy feeling whenever you see them.

Be that person for your team.

Make a concentrated effort not to complain about things. Don’t waste time worrying about things that are outside of your control, and focus on the things that are.

I think that this is an easy concept, but the execution can definitely be challenging.

Whenever I find negative thoughts creeping into my mind, I stop and think of that positive person in my life who is an absolute joy to be around. I ask myself how they would approach this situation, what they would say, or what action they would take—and I become the source of positivity.

And the fact is, leaders who are more positive are more effective. There was a study done Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson, on the difference between happy and unhappy couples. They found that people in relationships who have 5 positive interactions to 1 negative interaction had a happier relationship.

This is also true for your team. If you constantly say positive things then when the time comes where you need to give constructive criticism, it will be much better received.

Stay positive and be the leader who nurtures positivity.

8. They keep focus on the big picture.

I like to imagine that a leader is much like the captain of a ship.

While each crew member has their heads down, paying attention to their present task, the captain is watching the horizon. The captain watches the course to ensure safe arrival at the destination.

The company goals can be thought of as the destination. It’s up to the leader to navigate the way by discovering how those goals can be reached.

It’s easy to get lost in daily operations, but it’s imperative that the leader keeps the team’s focus on where it needs to be.

Be the captain who keeps their eye on the horizon and doesn’t get bogged down by daily tasks.

9. They don’t doubt the capacity of the people they lead.

This one is very important. Believing in someone is powerful. It’s what propels a person forward. And can show up in many ways. From something as simple as the way that you talk to someone, all the way to what you are willing to delegate.

There’s a Ted Talk from 1972 where Viktor Frankl was giving a lecture about belief in a person. He said that you need to approach your belief about who a person is from the perspective of who the person can be. Basically meaning that when you set your sights high for someone and when you see them for who they can be, they will develop the capacity to be that.

So don’t operate from a place of doubt. Instead, believe that the person is capable of more. Set your sights high, and they will rise to the occasion.

10. They look for ways to continuously improve.

What do all “masters” of a trade, discipline, or concept have in common?

They are students of it.

A great leader has the ability to lead, because they know how to follow. They follow people, ideas, and things that teach them how to be an effective communicator, a source of inspiration, influential, impactful, etc.

This is the main difference between a manager and a leader, a leader and great leader. They continue to learn. They seek out ways to grow and improve.

When you think of someone who you consider to be a great leader, do you think they read one book on leadership and said, “Ok, that’s it. I’m the best leader I can be now.” Probably not, right?

Become a student of leadership. Look for the ways that will help you improve, and continuously seek out the skills you need  to effectively lead.

We are anxious to improve our circumstances but unwilling to improve ourselves. We therefore remain bound. – James Allen

11. They think creatively.

According to Dictionary.com the definition of creativity is:

The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.

It’s clear to me that a combination of being a solution-finder, eliminating self-imposed limits, and keeping a positive outlook are all necessary when it comes to creativity.

How else will you be able to transcend commonality and create meaningful new ideas?

To touch again on the exercise that Dr. Schwartz did at his conferences, the suggested ideas from his audience weren’t things that our society was already doing. The new ideas were different, and many of them were even things that give you an initial gut reaction of “No-way!”.

Creativity is not saying “yes” to every hair-brain idea, but it is about being open to possibility and operating from outside your comfort zone.

12. They commit to accountability.

I’m a quotes kind-of-a-girl. I love them because they effortlessly sum concepts up, oh so perfectly. So this has to start with a quote.

The Growth Effect

I like to think of accountability as a verb. It’s an action.

Accountability is a multi-faceted process, with repetition, and is ultimately the thing that makes execution happen.

Without it, words have no weight. And goals are just dreams.

You can create accountability for yourself, your team, and foster an attitude of accountability in your office culture.

Don’t get trapped into thinking that accountability is punitive and reactive. Rather, it is about being pro-active. One very simple way to generate pro-active accountability is through job descriptions.

13. They celebrate wins.

Celebrating successes and wins is, in my opinion, an under-utilized leadership skill. If you’re already doing this, then you are ahead of the curve! But by simply celebrating a job well-done, you (and the team) are giving acknowledgment of efforts and showing gratitude.

By focusing on what you’ve accomplished you are fostering an attitude of success (aka the person feels and thinks: ‘I am successful’ and ‘I can succeed because I’ve succeeded before’).

Celebration thus reinforces success.

14. They take action.

Taking action is something that a successful leader does. A great leader will not sit in the side lines and watch things plummet. They seize opprotunity, make course corrections, and follow-through.

You’ve probably noticed that many of these categories are intertwined. This one is no different.

Taking action is one way a leader sets an example. It’s also a way to teach and reinforce great habits.

The leader who gets results is the person who finds a way to get done what needs to be done. And they don’t compromise on the actions that are critical to their team’s and office’s success.

15. They awaken possibility in others.

The truth is: a leader is in the business of developing people. They cultivate relationships, and the cultivation of a relationship is what makes them worth following.

If you’ve ever been a part of a business that wants to grow or has grown, then you know that there is no way a single person can build an insanely successful business single-handedly.

We all need other people in order to achieve greatness. And if we’re being honest, we all have self-doubt.

So who do you think performs better: a team with a bunch of self-doubt or a team who has been bolstered to believe in themselves?

A great leader knows how to do this. It’s in the way they get you to see things from a different perspective. It is how they continuously believe in what you are capable of even when you don’t.

They find a way to turn the light on in the dark, and cheer you on during a steep climb.

They ignite your excitement about what you can do and they get you to believe in your ability to do. They help you find a power you never knew you had.

Be the leader who awakens possibility.

Truly Inspire Others To Take Action

I feel it’s important to mention no one is perfect (refer back to #4 and #10). Maybe you do exceptionally well in some of the categories above but struggle in others. And that’s ok.

But I can promise you, that even without perfection, if you at least make some changes to do things differently you will find that you have an amazing ability to inspire others to take action.

And action is necessary for growth & success.

I asked a question at the beginning of this post. Now I want you to answer it:

How are you showing up everyday?


























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