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The first question most people ask when they meet some new is “What do you do?” I sometimes have difficulty answering this basic question. While I am clear about my work, the language I use to describe it doesn’t always communicate its true nature. In large part when we think of leadership, most people still hold images of men wearing pin-striped suits, authoritarian behavior and/or the rare individual who manages to move beyond talk to truly create an impact on the world.

In practicing the art and science of leadership development for the past 20 years, I suggest the way to create leaders who are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century is by redefining leadership so that more people are prepared to share the task of getting our communities “on the right track.”

The Top 10 Skills of Today’s Leaders:

1. Know Who You Are: This means being aware of and aligned with the unchangeable parts of yourself, Your humanity is not bound by title, position, power or wealth.

2. Clearly Communicate What You Bring to the Table: Everyone has something meaningful to contribute. Leaders understand their talents and skills and know how to offer them to the world.

3. Know What You Want to Change: Telling someone you want to lead or hold a particular position of power is passé. Rather than an end within itself, leadership is the means to achieve a goal. Leaders are passionate about something and work toward achieving it, regardless of how it looks.

4. Bring Leadership Wherever You Go: Being a leader doesn’t mean you bring your best to only one area of your life, it means that you maintain your integrity in all facets of your life, from your family and community to the world.

5. Align Your Life With Your Leadership: It is difficult to be a successful leader and have personal habits that don’t support a fully actualized life. Do you take care of your health? Do you have healthy relationships in your life? Are you engaged in life long learning? Do you regularly connect to something greater than yourself?

6. Communicate Effectively: Effective communication is not about mastering the art of “the spin.” Leaders are comfortable being open and real in all situations and are connected to the wants and needs of those around them. Ultimately, communication is about connecting and a leader needs to understand both sides of the conversation.

7. Solve Problems Before People Know They Exist: Heroes act with skill and precision after the crisis has hit; leaders anticipate the needs of the community before a crisis takes place and make changes to avoid it. The leader often receives less fanfare than the hero, but the leader’s service to the community is priceless.

8. Measure Your Results Against Resolving Issues: In today’s image-driven culture, many of the people who want to be thought of as leaders claim victory by rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic rather than trying to right the ship. Leaders care less about how it looks and focus on what is actually being done to resolve the root causes of the problem.

9. Be The Change: Hopi wisdom says, “do not look outside yourself for the leader.” No one else is going to “fix it.” and to change things, leaders takes responsibility for the results—everyday. Everyone is responsible for leadership in some way and the best time to start is now.

10. Be Happy: Being engaged in your life, as the leader you are, is a true joy. When you free yourself from life’s “shoulds” and create opportunities to bring your best self to the world, you eliminate the burdens and inspire others to do the same.

With this list in hand, discussing my work gets easier. I support people in moving through the process of understanding what they have to offer and developing a strategy to fully realize it in their lives. EVERYONE has the capacity to lead and to live a full, balanced, successful and abundant life. You simply have to decide if you want to make the leadership choice. When you do, your world and the world of those around will change for the better.

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Comment by Kathleen Schafer on November 22, 2010 at 10:44am
Matt--each person is born with a unique set of talents and skills to offer the world. Effectively communicating what we have to offer, and in general, is a natural outgrowth of being comfortable with who you are. So that as people with gifts that require a more gregarious, technical, or soft-spoken style naturally develop it in line with their authentic self. There is no need to become something we are not, rather the goal is to become more of who we already are. (If you want more info, the Cycle of Change is described and animated on my site: http://leadershipconnection.net/about-us/
Comment by Matt Rise on November 20, 2010 at 9:54am
Excellent post on leadership.

Being an effective communicator, from your post, appears to be a huge part of being a leader. Are leaders born communicators or are there ways that leaders seem to enhance and hone that skill?

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