The 5 Habits That Will Make or Break You as a Leader

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

Unfortunately, most people in leadership positions today are not effective leaders. A widely cited global leadership study by Gallup found that a staggering 82% of managers and leaders are doing more harm than good with their leadership behaviors. If you aspire to be an emerging leader, you need to hone the right skills to avoid falling into that 82% and instead become part of the small group of exceptional leaders who inspire and empower those around you.

Here are five critical tips for emerging leaders to develop authentic leadership prowess:

1. Cultivate Self-Awareness

The starting point for becoming an effective leader is self-awareness – having an acute understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, values, emotional tendencies, and blind spots. With this self-knowledge, you can lead authentically and connect with your team.

As the author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry, states: “Self-awareness is the meta-skill of the 21st century that allows a person to understand their tendencies across situations, increasing their effectiveness.”

Actively solicit feedback from trusted colleagues, mentors, coaches, and personality assessments. Reflect deeply on how you typically respond under pressure, motivate others, and make decisions. The more insight you gain into your authentic self, the more you can show up as a genuine leader.

2. Become an Exceptional Listener

Ineffective leaders tend to be great talkers but could be better listeners. They prioritize airing their views over understanding the views, concerns, and ideas of others on their team. Emerging leaders must develop the crucial skill of deep listening.

Research by leadership development consultants Zenger Folkman found that leaders who are rated as superior listeners are perceived as superior motivators, coaches, and mentors, more respected by their peers and staff, and delivering superior results relative to peers who score poorly on listening skills.

Go out of your way to create an environment where team members feel heard. Ask probing follow-up questions, avoid interrupting, maintain eye contact, and remove distractions when someone is speaking to you. Leaders who actively listen send the message that they truly value their team.

3. Build Trust Through Vulnerability

The age of the infallible, stoic leader is over. To build trust and psychological safety within your team, you need to be willing to be vulnerable and acknowledge your errors, uncertainties, and development areas.

A research study by leadership development experts Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman found that a willingness to admit mistakes was one of the most strongly correlated leadership behaviors with organizational effectiveness and engagement levels.

When you make a mistake or poor decision, admit it sincerely and openly. Share the thought process that led to the error, what you learned, and how you plan to adjust. This transparency will make your team feel safe taking smart risks and voicing concerns before issues escalate.

4. Continuously Learn and Grow

Great leaders never allow themselves to become stagnant. They remain passionate, perpetual learners – continually expanding their knowledge, skills, and mindsets. An eagerness for growth shows humility and sets a powerful example for the rest of your team to emulate.

In their book The Expertise Revolution, thought leaders Gerard Roesser-Hogan and Susan Goldsworthy share data that found three-quarters of high-performing organizations reported that employee expertise was a driver of competitive differentiation. More than having skills and knowledge today is needed – the real advantage comes from being an exceptional continuous learner.

Read voraciously across diverse domains, take professional development courses online or in person, find experienced mentors and coaches, and put yourself in stretch roles that force you to expand your capabilities. A leader’s learning journey is never complete.

5. Inspire Through Storytelling

Facts and figures alone rarely motivate action and cultivate lasting commitment. To move people and drive impact as a leader, you need to become a masterful storyteller who can leverage the power of narrative to inspire shared vision and purpose.

A leadership case study by McKinsey highlighted how iconic leaders like Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. excelled at using vivid anecdotal stories to ignite motivation and capture the hearts and minds of those they led.

Look for opportunities in meetings, communications, and one-on-one interactions to share relevant stories that reinforce key messages. Stories make your points tangible and relatable. Compelling storytelling is one of the core talents distinguishing great leaders who can steer their teams toward ambitious goals.

By implementing these five essential tips, emerging leaders can hone abilities that will allow them to cultivate influence, drive lasting impact, and become part of the elite group of exceptional leaders within any organization. The leadership journey is challenging but highly rewarding for those who embrace lifelong learning and growth.