5 Things Highly Successful Leaders Do Differently [Infographic]

Linh Tran, Friday 02 September 2016 | Reading time: unknown

Leadership is about more than just technical skills and subject matter expertise. Not everybody is a natural-born leader, but everybody has the potential to be a great leader. 

How did people like Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey and Richard Branson become successful business leaders? Obviously, they put a lot of hard work into building up their businesses, but they wouldn’t have been able to achieve what they did without the people behind them. By definition, leaders are visionaries and have the ability to inspire people to believe in their vision. There is no one-size-fits-all leadership formula, but there are some things many highly successful business leaders do that differentiates them from others.

[Infographic] Leadership Lessons: 5 Things Successful Leaders Do Differently

Highly successful leaders…

…tell stories.

“Storytelling” is not just reserved for bedtime rituals, it’s also an important business tool. It’s natural to us to tell “stories” in our daily lives: when we tell someone about our day, when we recap a meeting to a coworker who couldn’t attend it, and so on. Storytelling is also a great leadership tool, because they carry emotions that help leaders connect, motivate and inspire others. For example, if you want to win your staff’s backing for a new project, dry facts and boring numbers won’t elicit the kind of enthusiasm that telling a good story can achieve.

How to improve your storytelling

Effective storytelling requires that there is a clear structure to the story. Just like a Shakespearean play, your story should follow the typical dramatic structure defined by Freytag:

  • Exposition (introduction)
  • Rising action
  • Climax (plot reversal)
  • Falling action
  • Denouement (resolution, end)

The other vital aspect of every story is the “hero”. A hero doesn’t necessarily have to be a person, it can be a project, a product, or a location. It’s important to offer your audience a relatable hero whom they can identify with.

…stay positive.

It’s not always easy to stay positive as a leader in high-stress and high-pressure periods. But it’s actually the time when you need to be optimistic and stay positive the most. Just like storytelling, positivity increases the team’s motivation and enables them to be more creative and innovative. You can’t expect people to believe in your vision, if you don’t believe in it yourself.

How to be a more positive leader

It doesn’t take a lot to become a more positive leader, small things can have great effects. Just changing your vocabulary can make a difference: Instead of saying “I don’t think it’s possible”, it’s better to say “It’s a challenge, but we can do it”.

If you want to be a more positive leader, you also have to communicate to your staff that it’s okay to make mistakes or even fail. Instead of criticizing them, give constructive feedback and encourage them to learn from their mistakes. And of course, always show appreciation and positive feedback for work well done.

…trust their team.

Great leaders know how to let go and to put their trust in their team’s ability to finish the tasks you give them successfully. You might feel the need to do everything yourself, but even if you work extremely efficiently you will reach your limit at some point. You won’t be able to lead your organization and your employees, if you’re burned out.

How to delegate more effectively

Effective delegation also needs practice, but you can definitely learn to not do everything yourself. Here are some things you need to keep in mind when delegating:

  • You need to clearly specify and communicate what results you expect and what your requirements are.
  • Define the limits of the work and establish control procedures
  • Always check the progress of the work and offer your support and advice when necessary
  • Focus on the end results, not on how the tasks are done
  • Remember to communicate your appreciation towards the job your team is doing

…are present.

Being “present” isn’t just about being physically present in the office, nor is it about breathing down your team’s neck and micromanaging everything. To be a “present leader” means that you are fully engaged in everything that’s going on in your organization and that you make an active effort to understand your employees and their needs better. This will help you motivate your employees better, as they get the feeling that their concerns and suggestions are really being heard. It also helps you make better decisions, since you have more in-depth insight on issues.

How to be a more present leader

Being present doesn’t require a lot of time or effort, just checking in while getting coffee will help you establish more presence. Here are some tips on how to be more present:

  • Put your smart devices away and focus your attention towards the conversation you’re having
  • Really listen, not just to what is being said, but also pay attention to non-verbal cues such as body language and the underlying subtext
  • Ask a lot of questions too and be inquisitive

…lead by example.

Successful leaders always “practice what they preach”. Only if you lead by example can you become a person that others trust and want to follow. Holding your employees to different standards can lead to a loss of trust. This can be fatal for employee morale and motivation. If you want to push people to do their best and continually improve, you will need to show them by doing so yourself.

How to become a leader who leads by example

Leading by example is very easy. The first step is to eliminate double standards, and “walk the talk”. Only ask someone to do something if you’re also willing to do the same. If you have set up new rules, follow them closely. A team will always orientate their actions on the leader’s action. 


What makes a great leader in your opinion? Leave us a comment! 

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