A skilled leader is normally better than an unskilled leader. So leaders have to master the basics of their trade: building teams, influencing and persuading, making decisions in uncertainty, and more. But no leader gets ticks in all the boxes. That is reassuring: we do not have to be perfect to succeed.
Many of the best leaders have defects which become more obvious as they step further into the spotlight. Skills may help them get over these flaws, but they all have something more. They perform differently because they behave differently, which means they think differently.
The good news is that the best leaders all display the same habits of mind. Success is not random. The even better news is that anyone can acquire these habits of mind.
Based on my 14 years of research into leaders, and interviews with some of the greatest, here are seven mindsets which set the best apart from the rest, plus one mindset from the dark side.
High aspirations: dare to dream. If you want to get noticed, you have to make a difference. You are not in control until you have a clear plan for your future and the future of your team.
Courage: dare to act. A good idea which does not happen is a pipe dream today and a regret tomorrow. Keep pushing your limits, and your limits will grow. Even things which seem tough today, like public speaking, will seem easy tomorrow with practice and persistence.
Resilience: stay the course. The difference between failure and success is often no more than persistence. Use every setback to learn and grow.
Stay positive: believe in better. All the evidence shows that positive people live longer and earn more. Simple exercises help: count your blessings by listing all the good things that have happened today; focus on the future, don’t dwell on the past; focus on what you can do, don’t worry about what you can’t do.
Accountability: control your destiny, or someone else will. Remember, we always have choices. If we are annoyed, angry and upset, that is our choice. If we are in a dead end job, we can choose to stay or leave. Choose wisely.
Collaborative: succeed through others. Leaders are not lone heroes. Leadership means making things happen through other people. Build a great team around you: select based on values, not skills, because you can train skills, but you can’t train values.
Growth: keep on learning. No leader gets ticks in all the boxes, no one is perfect. So keep on learning and adapting to your changing roles and jobs.
And here is the mindset from the dark side: ruthlessness.
All the leaders I interviewed were courteous and generous with their time. But I would not like to get on the wrong side of them, or stand between them and their goal. They all hated being called ruthless, but signed up to being hard edged. As one said: “when you accept excuses, you accept failure”.
They see that survival of the organisation is more important than survival of the individual. They push hard and set outrageous goals. We all remember Alexander the Great. Who remembers his cousins Alexander the Reasonable and Dmitri the Modest?
Dare to take on the greatest challenge: that is where you will learn the most, achieve the most and grow the most.
Jo Owen is author of The Mindset of Success: from good management to great leadership (Kogan Page), which has been shortlisted for CMI’s Management Book of the Year Awards 2015.