No matter what line of work we’re in, we’ve all probably suffered under the leadership of a truly terrible boss at one time or another. Bad bosses come in many forms. There’s the tyrant who insists on doing things his way or else! There’s the lazy, checked-out boss who lets everybody else do all the work and grabs all the credit. And then there’s the micromanager who does everything herself/ himself because he/she assumes nobody else is capable of producing at her/ his level.

When employees aren’t just engaged, but inspired, that’s when organisations see real breakthroughs. Inspired employees are themselves far more productive and, in turn, inspire those around them to strive for greater heights.

The only way to improve leadership skills is by focusing on ourselves, not others. We spend much of our day working to improve our companies, families, and communities. Use some of that energy to also improve yourself.

If you’ve ever worked with or interacted with someone who seems to effortlessly accomplish their goals, stay healthy, and have a great life outside of work, it’s easy to feel inadequate, as this person seemingly floats through a near-perfect existence. There is certainly a tiny percentage of these people who lead a truly charmed life with little to no effort, but for the most part, once you get to know the men and women who live what seems like a perfect life, you’ll find that they’re constantly focused on improving themselves and their surroundings.

Courage is the key to great leadership.
Throughout the ages, people have searched for the precise alchemy of ingredients that constitute great leadership. In measured proportions, great leaders are said to demonstrate bold but reasoned judgment, spirited but calculated risk-taking and an assertive but reflective disposition. Complicating the matter are the expectations and needs of those being led. Followers want leaders who make decisions decisively but inclusively, interpret situations with rational and emotional intelligence and exude confidence and humility.

The list of characteristics that comprise great leadership is so long and contradictory, that the aspiring leader is left to ask, “Where on earth do I start?” Fortunately, there is a clear starting point. One leadership characteristic – or more accurately, virtue – informs and strengthens all others: Courage.

Directive leaders are capable of engineering their environments and abdicating power to others.
The key skill of a Directive Leader is manoeuvring situations, circumstances and even people to best achieve goals. But how do you do this? Let’s start with engineering your environment. This requires a three-pronged approach: observe, interpret and intervene. Transparency is key to engineering your environment. This doesn’t mean just creating a few open work spaces, or getting out of your office for quick chats with the team. You need to be completely open with people about your thought process and your intentions, and you need to communicate why you’re taking particular actions. By engineering your environment and abdicating power to others, you show that you are collaborative innovator willing to take calculated risks.

Compassion is a sign of strength, and it can create an environment of trust.
Leadership is a complex topic. It requires a range of competencies to be effective, and it has many layers as organizations are looking for leaders at every level, within all functions. Tapping into and unleashing leadership potential is one of the learning leader’s key objectives, in addition to developing skills with which to build the talent pool. Doing so heightens an organization’s ability to retain talent, meet business goals and gain competitive edge within the marketplace. There are various leadership models at work in the industry, including compassionate leadership. We know what a difference it makes when employees feel valued, appreciated and acknowledged for their contributions. Taking an extra few moments to express interest and concern indicates a level of care that goes a long way to build credibility. Employees want and need to know their leader cares. Showing transparency and genuine vulnerability makes a leader relatable.

The best leaders are perceptive leaders.
Great leadership has a lot to do with managing relationships. Leaders with strong relationships inspire strong results. That means social awareness is a crucial skill for emerging and veteran leaders alike. While there are many competencies to develop strong social awareness, a great one to start with is perception. Strong perception gives leaders an advantage when it comes to inspiring and managing their employees.

Vulnerability: the key to better leadership.
Vulnerability, as a resource in leadership and within the workplace, can impact the entire culture and creativity of a team. It can increase output; it can create a place for courage and is a strength that should be harnessed. Vulnerability is a power tool in an emotionally intelligent leader’s toolkit. Courageous leaders leverage their “woundedness” into genuine connections, innovation and learning. They embrace moments of vulnerability by acknowledging their current state, taking responsibility for their emotions and asking for help.

The key message is:
Being an effective leader takes a lot of work, and there are many ways to tackle leadership. But there are a few key skills and approaches that all good leaders must display. To thrive as a leader, you must be courageous and strong. You must be able to engineer your environment and abdicate lower to others. Finally, you must inspire trust in your team and be willing to appear vulnerable.