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Leadership is a topic that gets a lot of airtime in the business world, and for a good reason. An effective leader is crucial to the success of any enterprise, and perhaps even more important to the success of small businesses, which have fewer people to offset any mistakes or weaknesses.
Fortunately, America’s history is full of great leaders — from thought pioneers to politicians — to look to for inspiration on how to be a successful manager. Here’s our list of the top 10 traits of good leadership, along with some famous examples to help you model your management techniques.
George Washington could never have led the American Revolution without confidence in his cause, just like you can’t lead a small business without confidence that you’re capable of doing so. Not to be confused with arrogance, confidence is crucial to effective leadership. If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s difficult to make others believe in you enough to feel inspired, motivated, and encouraged.
When the Wright brothers started trying to build an airplane, they didn’t have much to work with. What they did have, though, was passion. People were drawn to their zeal, and today we have an entire industry founded on their simple prototype. All this goes to show that when you’re passionate about something, others notice, and it’s often contagious. Loving what you do and showing how enthusiastic you are about it can carry a lot of weight, especially in a small business setting. You can help your employees — and your company — reach their full potential by bringing all the passion you’ve got to the table; hopefully they’ll match your excitement and work as enthusiastically as you do.
Determination pushed Harriet Tubman in her work as an abolitionist, and it enabled her to lead hundreds of people from enslavement to freedom. History shows that not giving up when the pressure mounts is a key element of successful leadership, whether your cause is great or small. Small businesses often face a number of obstacles when they’re starting out, so don’t let that discourage you. Use your company’s trials to help both you and your staff learn and grow.
Decide now to make honesty a core value if you want to become a great leader like Abraham Lincoln, who reportedly once walked three miles to return six cents to a customer he’d accidentally overcharged while working as a store clerk. Trust is an important part of a strong business structure. If you emphasize transparency in your company culture, you’ll attract employees who value those traits — and those are the employees you want on your team.
Susan B. Anthony, a champion of the women’s movement, fought tirelessly for women, who she knew deserved more societal respect. As a small-business owner, you can follow her lead by using what authority you have to hear and defend the needs of your employees. When you treat those you are leading with respect by validating their concerns, you’ll earn a lot of respect in return. Your employees should feel like partners — not commodities — in your company’s success.
When Eleanor Roosevelt became first lady, she revolutionized the title. Mrs. Roosevelt took a particularly active role in humanitarian efforts and even participated in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations. Shoot to have that level of empathy and compassion with your employees. Any time you have the opportunity to put people first, do so — even if that means pushing back on a few client demands to preserve your workforce from burnout or fatigue.
A 2012 study found that having a good sense of humor gives leaders an edge, which may be why President Barack Obama often makes time for a good joke when he speaks. Not every great leader throughout history had a quick wit, but in 2016, it certainly helps. You don’t have to put on a comedy routine every week, but encouraging laughter and joking around the office will boost team morale and improve your relationships with your employees.
When it comes to vision, few leaders can surpass Martin Luther King, Jr. By speaking about a goal — his famous dream — he was able to inspire an entire generation to care about civil rights. While your goal may not be as lofty, you can still implement the same type of vision around your office. Start by setting and communicating business goals to your workers by checking out our 5-step guide. With a bit of time and a lot of effort, you can use those visions to build a better reality for your company.
Benjamin Franklin found that he became a better leader once he learned to be humble, so don’t be afraid of not knowing everything or possessing every skill required for your small business’s success. True leadership requires a correct understanding not only of your strengths, but also of your weaknesses. If you can recognize your own shortcomings, you can hire great employees to fill those gaps.
President Ronald Reagan was able to convey his ideas about America’s complex problems with simplicity and clarity, earning him the nickname, “The Great Communicator.” Arguably the most important characteristic of a good leader, good communication skills are non-negotiable if you want to be successful. Have regular conversations with your employees, and make sure that you clearly vocalize what’s expected of them. Don’t forget to communicate about their successes, either — a well-placed, specific compliment can be very encouraging.
This country has a long and rich history filled with strong leaders of all sorts. As you celebrate the birth of the United States, take some time to think about the traits that made those leaders great, and see if you can implement a few of those characteristics in your own leadership style.