Train Yourself to be a Great Leader

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by Mark Sanborn

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There aren’t that many natural-born leaders. Most leaders take responsibility for training themselves to be effective. Whether you learn from the wisdom of others, or get insights from personal experience, becoming a more effective leader is about what you do — not what know.
Here are five things you can do to train yourself to be a great leader:

  1. Keep promises, period.
    The corollary is to never make promises you’re not sure you can keep. Nothing kills your credibility quicker than a breached promise or unfulfilled expectation.
    Sometimes keeping promises can be at least challenging, if not downright painful. This commitment will develop discipline and integrity. Practice it with your kids, as well as colleagues.
  2. Demonstrate pride in your appearance and work.
    Don’t dress to impress, dress to influence. That means making sure your appearance is consistent with your personal and professional brand. Begin by asking yourself how a leader with your aspirations should appear to others.
    Don’t limit appearance to just yourself. Apply it to your company. Butler Amusements has always prided itself on having the cleanest trucks in the business and have built a brand around “The Cleanest Show in the West.”
  3. Treat team members as you expect them to treat customers.
    Asking your team to be courteous to customers and being a jerk to them is incongruent and hypocritical.
    Being the leader doesn’t give you a free pass to indulge your base instincts. The way you treat people is a barometer to everyone on your team.
    Robert Greenleaf coined the term “servant leadership” in the 1960s. It isn’t about being servile — it’s about finding ways to support your employees so they can become successful. Periodically ask, “What can I do to help?”
  4. Show your commitment to personal growth.
    There are ultimately only two ways to grow your business: Grow yourself and grow your team. As you and your team improve, so do service levels, operational efficiency and everything else.
    Suncoast Coffee Service and Vending is a small company of 20 employees based in Tampa, Florida. The founders pay employees to read books that benefit both their personal and professional lives.
    The company’s reading program is called Making People. Better Books are distributed to employees, along with a “read by” date. Employees have approximately one month to read the book, and they are given $50 after completing it. At the end of the month, employees meet to discuss the book.
  5. Prove your receptivity to feedback by asking for it, rather than waiting for it.
    Some leaders react to unsolicited feedback as criticism and miss an opportunity to learn. But waiting for your employees to become brave enough to offer you feedback is a risky proposition. Don’t ask employees what they like or dislike about you. You’ll get better information by asking this question: “In your opinion, what might I do to become a more effective leader?”
    Listen for actionable behavior. If someone says you’d be more effective by communicating more clearly, ask for an example of when you haven’t so you’ll understand what he or she means.
    Wheaties may be the breakfast of champions, but good feedback is the breakfast of those truly committed to improvement.

Which of these actions will you take first to train yourself to be a better leader?

*This post originally appeared on

Mark SanbornMark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE, is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio dedicated to developing leaders in business and in life. Sanborn is an international bestselling author and noted authority on leadership, team building, customer service and change. Follow Mark on Twitter @Mark_Sanborn.