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7 Things Successful Leaders Do Differently

This is the success formula for thriving leaders.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve had the privilege of coaching, teaching, and talking to thousands of leaders from varied walks of life. What I’ve noticed is that while most are successful on some level, a handful of them have that something extra. Their path hasn’t always been easy, and they’ve encountered numerous challenges, but this select group of leaders thrives both personally and professionally. Here is what they do differently:

1. They put relationships first. Successful leaders not only build networks, but they also nurture the connections they make. They make time for their clients and colleagues. They make time for people they mentor. They make time for their personal relationships. It takes a great deal of energy to keep connections thriving, but successful people are willing to put in the time and the effort. I’m reminded of a quote by Robert Martin that illustrates this point: “Taking an interest in what others are thinking and doing is often a much more powerful form of encouragement than praise.”

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2. They know that meaning matters. In a recent Psychology Today blog post, I talk about the importance of incorporating meaning into your life, your work, and your business ventures. Many entrepreneurs, particularly millennials, are building their businesses around giving back and doing something that will affect the world in some way. Successful leaders know how their life’s work fits into a broader, more significant context.

3. They use humor. Successful leaders deal with tough stuff, but they fight back with humor. Early studies of humor and health showed that humor strengthened the immune system, reduced pain, and reduced stress levels. Since humor builds positive emotion, it can also help reduce feelings of anger, depression, and anxiety (McGhee, 2010). Additional research in this area shows that positive emotions predicted increases in both resilience and life satisfaction (Cohn et. al., 2009). What’s interesting is that the more stressful the situation, the more successful leaders tap into the funny side of life.

4. They lead and live with their strengths. Research by the Gallup Organization shows that the most effective leaders invest in their strengths, surround themselves with the right people to maximize their team, and understand their followers’ needs (Rath & Conchie, 2008). Successful leaders understand that they cannot be everything to everybody and remain effective; instead, they have a keen awareness of how to leverage their unique blend of strengths, skills, and talents.

5. They manage pessimistic thinking. Successful leaders reign in their pessimistic thinking in three ways. First, they focus their time and energy on where they have control. They know when to move on if certain strategies aren’t working or if they don’t have control in a specific area. Second, they know that “this too shall pass.” Successful leaders “embrace the suck” and understand that while the ride might be bumpy at times, it won’t last forever. Finally, great leaders are good at compartmentalizing. They don’t let an adversity in one area of their life seep over into other areas of their life.

6. They make their own luck. The concept of “grit”—perseverance and passion for long-term goals, is not new, but recent research has shed interesting light on the concept. Researchers studied an incoming class of cadets at West Point in order to better understand why certain cadets dropped out and others continued along the path of military mastery. What they found is that the group who stayed was not more athletic, well-rounded or smarter—they were grittier; in fact, grit was a better predictor of success for these cadets than IQ or standardized test scores (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007). Successful leaders pursue goals with passion, don’t back down from challenges, don’t allow a failure to define who they are as a person, and simply put, don’t quit.

7. They manage their energy. Jim Loehr, co-author of the Harvard Business Review article entitled, “The Making of a Corporate Athlete,” describes an ideal performance state as prolonged and sustained high performance over time. Successful leaders become adept at moving between energy expenditure (stress) and energy renewal (recovery). In order to get the energy renewal required to live and work in an ideal performance state, successful leaders know when to refill their tank. Burnout is a potential reality for people in high-stress professions, and successful leaders keep burnout at bay by knowing how and when to take a break.

Joel Baker said it best: “A leader is a person you will follow to a place you wouldn’t go by yourself.” What steps can you start taking today to make your leadership style a success?

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Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is a lawyer turned stress and resilience expert who helps attorneys and law firms improve performance and increase well-being by mastering a set of skills proven to enhance resilience, build mental toughness, develop leadership, and promote strong relationships. Connect with Paula via:

Her website: www.marieelizbethcompany.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/marieelizabethcompany

Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauladavislaack

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References

Cohn, M.A. et al. (2009). Happiness unpacked: Positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building resilience. Emotion, 9(3), 361-368.

Duckworth, A., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 1087.

Loehr, J., & Schwartz, T. (2001). The making of a corporate athlete. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved on April 13, 2011 at http://www.peak4.nl/the_making.pdf.

McGhee, P. (2010). Humor: The lighter path to resilience and health. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths based leadership: Great leaders, teams, and why people follow. New York: Gallup Press.

Paula Davis-Laack, J.D., M.A.P.P., is a stress management and work/life performance expert providing strategies for a healthier, more resilient you.

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