5 Essential Leadership Keys for Executives... and Life

Damn, entrepreneuring is hard. And fun. And personally rewarding if you can handle the responsibility of being a leader.

For me, the most rewarding aspects of being an entrepreneur are the serious challenges that it presents and the no-safety-rope, feet-to-the-fire doing that's required. Leadership is one of those executive skills that are absolutely critical for success, but it isn't really taught in the schoolroom - most of us have to learn it through a variety of costly trials and errors, and very patient mentors. Despite little training, poor leadership is often the reason for failed businesses and stalled careers, the kind of thing we all try to avoid.

Leadership is difficult for everyone. That's why the world has so few good leaders. When you get right down to it, the difficulty with leadership is the people part of it. "People" are that magic and the complex society whose inner-workings will either make or break your machine. So that's a real place to focus on, right? Without a conscious effort and the ability to learn from your mistakes - and I've made mistakes! - it's difficult to develop the ability to effectively lead any group of people, much less a diverse group.

Hopefully these tools will encourage a better understanding of effective leadership, and better yet, inspire you to make your own leadership keys for success.

1. Take the First Step.
What is leadership without action? When hiking, the First Step might be literally the first step down the path. In a boardroom, the First Step might be taking responsibility when others pass, or making a difficult decision and letting others know how it affects them. Strive for action when others stall. Don't be afraid to make those difficult decisions and move forward. Use your inertia to show your team how and when to take action.

2. Come From a Positive Place.
People know... They can smell it. Bad intentions are poisonous, so be double extra sure to come from a place of good intentions, no mater what the circumstance. Pause, think and make sure that what you are saying and doing comes from that positive place, and make it obvious before you take any actions that affect people.

This doesn't mean avoiding difficult situations (welcome those) or being disagreeable (that's necessary sometimes). It means that the actions that you do take should obviously support your goals and your team's goals. Success comes easier this way.

Who wants to follow a bad apple?

3. Be Consistent.
Consistency develops organizational trust. When actions are, or even seem inconsistent, those around can become confused, losing sight of what to do or how to provide support. Confusion is not a good team building emotion, it damages workflow, and creates an uncertain atmosphere. Take note of your own personal patterns because those around you already do.

4. What Are You Being?
I resolved myself to become the kind of leader that attracts other leaders. This requires me to take actions that build trust, respect, and kinship. It also requires me to specifically think about each and every interaction that I have with recruits, my team, clients, vendors, and, well, everyone. "What are you being?" is the question that I ask myself to test whether I'm behaving in the way that supports my leadership goals. It's one of those questions that can stop you in your tracks, if you're honest about the answer.

5. Take a Step to the Side. (And Listen)
Great leaders are also great followers. How else could you know what leadership is? Be a great follower, continuously strive for improvement, and by your actions, teach everyone what that means.

In turn, leaders should welcome the opportunity to develop those around them. One of the most powerful things a leader can do is to delegate the leadership role and then be ready to support that leader on the task. Consider it part of the job, and encourage your team to want to also Take the First Step.

Through personal failures and improvements, and with the help of fantastic people, I've developed these leadership keys to focus on every day. Each of these are active thoughts that I try to keep near the surface to make me be a better business leader, family member, and friend. Because relationships don't only exist in business, after all, and business couldn't exist at all without them.

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.