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Increasing your leadership potential

10 key steps you should be taking if you want to be a credible, influential leader.

4 min read


Leadership potential

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Leadership is a behavior, not a position or a title. While some executives exhibit remarkable leadership behaviors, others simply become good managers, never fully realizing their capacity for leadership. The latter will likely have the skill and determination to operate a program and possibly even oversee an organization. It is the former, however, who will successfully guide an organization toward unlocking its true potential.

A key leadership behavior revolves around building strong relationships with others. To some, relationship-building is viewed as soft, emotional or irrelevant to an organization’s success. In my experience, however, it is the leader who brings out the best in others who guides organizations to a higher level of success. This is the leader who makes people feel important, and who is attentive to the voices, concerns and actions of others. This is the leader who knows that strong relationships rest on trust and respect.

The good news is that behaviors can be learned. Learn to be a leader-like relationship builder by doing the following:

  1. Establish your credibility. Whenever you consistently make decisions that benefit others you work with or that benefit your organization, you earn people’s trust and respect.
  2. Lead through informal authority. Formal titles and positions are shallow sources of authority. Respect, trust and admiration are stronger, more durable currency. Win hearts through sincerity, passion and vision.
  3. Talk with people at all levels. Tell them about your plans and hopes for the organization and how they can participate in its success. People will watch how you treat others and how you communicate with them.
  4. Live by the Golden Rule. As an old saying goes, “People may not remember what you said or what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” Treat people the way you would want to be treated by them.
  5. Listen to people and hear what they say. How do you feel when you know that a person you’re taking to is listening to you? You feel great, so return the favor. Ask people what they think of an issue and then really consider what they have to say.
  6. Deliver on your promises. It is crucial that you keep the promises you make to people. On the other hand, if you can no longer keep a commitment that you made, own up to it and let them know why. They may not like your decision, but explaining your reasons lets them know you have integrity.
  7. Be seen. Don’t hide behind a desk and communicate by emails or tweets. Effective leaders take time out from their desk-bound responsibilities and connect to people. If your colleagues see you, they will feel connected to you and you will get the best from them.
  8. Make the tough decisions. People need to know that there is a leader steering the ship. They need to know that when a tough decision must be made, someone will make it. It is not the leader’s job to make everyone comfortable or popular, but your actions must reflect your core values.
  9. Be a decision-maker, not a procrastinator. Have you ever worked with someone who just couldn’t make a decision? Do you remember how frustrating it was? It is a blessing to others when a leader can make decisions in an appropriate and timely manner.
  10. Be fair and flexible. People are going to make mistakes, particularly if you empower them and encourage them to take risks. Before you reprimand someone who has made a mistake, ask yourself if it would be better to give the person a second chance. Sometimes, people will achieve more if they know you are there for them. Like a child playing on the monkey bars, they will trust that you are there to catch them if they fall.

It may take some practice, but by learning to build trust and respect among your colleagues, you will dramatically increase your leadership potential. Your influence and positive impact will increase, leading your colleagues and organization to greater levels of success and achievement.


Dennis C. Miller is the managing director of The Nonprofit Search Group and a nationally recognized strategic leadership coach with more than 35 years of experience working with nonprofit board leadership and chief executives across the country. Dennis is a sought-after motivational speaker, retreat facilitator and successful author. His new book is “A Guide to Recruiting Your Next CEO: The Executive Search Handbook for Nonprofit Boards.”

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