As I reflect on some of the most profoundly influential people with whom I have worked, I find myself admiring and being drawn to people who have displayed a specific blend of leadership characteristics and behaviors. I also notice that most of these individuals were effective leaders regardless of official titles or positions within the organization. They were just leaders, not because they were asked to be, but because that’s just who they were. They led because they were leaders. In observing them, I noticed all of them embodied four specific characteristics (among many others): discipline, purpose, humility, and initiative.
Discipline is what produces the endurance to fight through pain, hardship, and the propensity to give up when we reach our mental limits. Discipline is what wakes a leader up early to train, keeps them going when their passion begins to falter, and enables them to continue to move forward when the tasks increase in difficulty. These leaders recognize the need to consistently apply themselves to behaviors that will produce lasting results.
As important as discipline is, on its own, it is not enough. We need something that guides our discipline to go beyond sheer stubbornness. We need a purpose.
Purpose produces meaning. Have you ever gotten to that place in which your actions turn into mindless routine? I know I have. When we get to those places, purpose is there to remind us of our ‘why’. There have been many times in my experience when purpose saved me from the being a victim to menial tasks; not simply because it allowed me to continue my efforts, but because it gave the task meaning. With purpose in mind, even menial tasks begin to carry profound meaning and impact in relation to the overarching purpose.
When we have strong purpose, people are unified, and ego is set aside in deference to the end goal. Humility fosters unity within a team.
Humility is required in leadership because it acknowledges that each team member has a very limited and isolated perspective when left to their personal assumptions. Humility is required because it communicates our need for community and team perspectives to gain a more accurate and complete awareness of reality. Leaders who possess humility attract other thinkers and problem-solvers and, thereby, gain more robust perspectives; this enables them to actualize more creative and effective results. Humility invites others to lead.
Lastly, leaders take initiative.
Initiative, at its core, is taking responsibility. Initiators are those people who make things work. Organizations and teams who rely completely on effective strategy and role clarity will always have a lower ceiling in respect to effectiveness. People who take initiative capitalize on unexpected opportunities. They make decisions and produce actions that allow organizations to remain strategic, while navigating those all-too-common unforeseen situations and opportunities. People who take initiative lead themselves into opportunities.
The great news is that these qualities can be learned. They are learned through engagement. Engage with your teams and organizations. If you will act purposefully, be humble, take initiative, and discipline yourself, whatever your role, you are destined to make a lasting difference. No title needed.