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January 14, 2016

How to Be a Successful Business Leader

Business Woman
Photo Credit: Victor1558 via flickr

Perhaps more contentious than the “Chicken and Egg” debate is whether great leaders are born or made. If great leaders were born does it mean that the ability to lead is encoded in their DNA? And, if so, why throughout history, did the scions of those who were acknowledged as great leaders fail to follow in their footsteps?

Leadership is not found in your DNA. It is an ability that is nurtured by the accumulation of experiences. Leadership is a learned behavior that is natural and organic where decisions are made at an unconscious level. Leadership cannot be taught in school; its learning ground is the University of Life and class is in session every single day. From the moment we wake up, we are confronted with decisions we have to make. There are those who view life as a series of dominoes; falling continuously one against the other until it is confronted by a convergence point where the decision made will chart a new course for the dominoes to follow.

Those who fail to make a decision at the convergence point will be at a standstill. They are neither here nor there; unmoving, uncertain of what to do and where to go. In the context of business, confronted with a situation, they freeze; indecisive and non-committal to the course of action to take. Meanwhile, the competition has moved past them. Even those who initially falter are able to get up and leave them behind.

Here’s the truth: Everyone can become a leader. The path to becoming a leader starts closer to home.

1. It starts with you

Do you ever wonder why you procrastinate?

Why you chose to stare at the phone instead of making the all-important call to a prospective client at the appointed time?

Why you decided against sending that business proposal you’ve worked steadfastly on the last five days?

Why you opted to remain silent rather than call the attention of your supervisor on a glaring flaw in the Quarterly Business Review?

We all have our own set of fears and self-limiting beliefs. They keep us from accomplishing our goals and objectives. Behavioral psychologists refer to this as ‘The Glass Ceiling;’ a manifestation of our unconscious fears that prevents us from achieving a higher level of success or achievement. The Glass Ceiling kept you from making that phone call or sending the business proposal and calling your supervisor’s attention on the mistake in the QBR.

But the Glass Ceiling is your own creation; as such, you should have power and authority over it.

Leaders are those who realize this power and are able to lift this Glass Ceiling or break through it. Neuroscientists say that when confronted by fear, people have the option of fight, flight or freeze. Leaders never run away or freeze. They take a few steps back to channel momentum and run toward their fears at full speed.

Leaders embrace their fears because they look at them not as constraints but motivators to succeed. It gives them the clarity and confidence to make decisions.

2. Leaders are respected not feared.

People who purport to be leaders have the misconception that to be recognized as a leader, you must be feared and stimulate intimidation.

Who would want to work for someone out of fear? Would you rather follow someone out of fear or out of sense of duty?

When you instill fear, you discourage people from giving you their best. The response you get from sowing fear will prove to be disruptive to business. It will disengage the workforce and generate resentment.

On the other hand, respect inspires people to work to the best of their abilities. Respect is a quality that has to be earned in the trenches; the most iconic leaders in business do not hesitate to roll up their sleeves and work with their people to keep the business charted on the right course. The response you get from sowing respect is greater commitment and dedication regardless of the turbulence that lies ahead.

Leaders are not afraid to make decisions because they accept accountability for their actions unconditionally. Their people see them respond at the most critical stages when decisions made result in unintended consequences. Leaders perform at their best when tested under adversity. They do not waste time pointing fingers and chewing out subordinates, instead they move to address the situation before it transitions into a full-blown problem.

3. Leaders embrace their people not fear them.

The most misunderstood and under-utilized asset in any organization is also its most valuable asset: PEOPLE. In its effort to cope with the changes with the demands of the global business environment, companies invest millions in the latest technology, tools and processes. Lost in the race for greater technology is the need to invest in those who manage these tools and processes; PEOPLE.

Technology plays an important role in business development. It makes business work more efficiently and effectively. But technology cannot adapt to change because these are subject to the capabilities of those who designed them. The Human Asset with all of its imperfections and flaws is able to adapt simply because of its ability to generate feedback; the process of identifying stimulus and the corresponding effect. The ability to foresee change is an important quality for leaders because it transforms them to visionaries.

The greatest leaders in the world of business are renowned visionaries: Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic and of course, the late Steve Jobs of Apple.

If you study their history and business principles, one common denominator is love for their people. They encourage everyone to think and behave like leaders; accountable for their own work and respective departments. Tony Hsieh has established a “Holocracy,” an organization without managers. Zuckerberg, Branson and Jobs were reputed for involving their people in the decision-making process.

To become a great leader, you must do more than inspire people to follow. You must inspire them to become leaders as well.

Leadership is a quality in which you must invest time, effort and resources. But the dividends come in the form of unprecedented growth and sustainable long-term success.


Felix Tarcomnicu works with the outsourcing company called Small Virtual Assistant. He enjoys writing about entrepreneurship, outsourcing and marketing.