What is leadership all about? Leadership is about being purposeful, executing a strategy and evaluating results. It’s easy to be a leadership critic. We all fall into the trap of identifying what is wrong, what we think can be done and what failure looks like. That’s not leadership.

Good leaders are in the game: They succeed, and they fail, but they keep getting up to bat. Leadership is hard, accepting feedback is hard and being vulnerable and admitting when you’re wrong is hard. But leaders must be humble enough to be wrong and brave enough to try to be right.

Leading in a polarized culture where success is often about identifying other’s failures is challenging. Too many people who want to be leaders focus on what others aren’t doing right versus figuring out how we can contribute to a better outcome, even if it means helping out the current leader. How many times have you fallen into the trap of just being the magnifier of failure versus the service provider of success? I know. I’ve been there.

Leadership starts with the ability to put yourself in the lineup. Once you’re there, developing soft skills such as self-awareness, communication and emotional intelligence (EQ) will help maximize your effectiveness as a leader. It helps to have subject matter expertise also, but leadership is not about having the deepest knowledge on a given subject: It’s about the ability to make other people better … and that’s a big task to accomplish.

Self-awareness

We all have strengths and weaknesses. Listen hard enough and you will hear your weaknesses, but keep listening and you’ll realize that strengths are there, too. Know what you do well and know where you need to improve. Seek input, listen to feedback, and find someone you trust who will tell you when you did a good job as equally as when you missed the mark. Pay attention to what you do, why you do it and seek feedback. We become more aware by, well, being aware!

Communication

When I talk to groups about things that work and things that don’t, universally, failure is connected to a lack of communication. It’s amazing in our society with constant availability of texting, emailing, instant messaging and every other form of communication that the technology has not helped us communicate more effectively. To the contrary, some may argue that communication is more of a challenge today than in years’ past.

It’s important to communicate with purpose, without baggage and with insight on the purpose of the message. Look at the communications that are around you right now. How many of them use emotion, hyperbole or caustic language? Learn to communicate with fact. Drop the extra comments. These comments often distract from the message and focus on the messenger. For instance, instead of saying, “Why is the report late? I can’t do your job for you,” a better message is, “Is the report ready?” Even better, pick up the phone. Say, “Hey Peter, I was expecting to see your report today, is there anything I can do to help you?” Too often, out emotions lead us to jump to ignorant conclusions.

Emotional Intelligence

In the old days, many people thought that having a high intelligence quotient (IQ) leads to success. Being smart is helpful, but only if you have a role that is independent of working with others. Today, most employees must collaborate and depend on others to be successful in their roles. Success as a leader means enhancing EQ. EQ is the broad set of skills that connect us to each other. It’s the awareness that emotions impact outcomes. It’s also the tactic that a motivated individual engaged in the strategy is significantly more effective than someone just going through the motions. Emotionally intelligent leaders recognize the quiet quitters and find ways to re-engage them, refocus their energy and support them through the highs and lows of organizational life.

Leadership today is a multistep, multifaceted engagement in executing strategy, vision, people and process. Effective leaders can’t be one dimensional or just be the perpetual critic. We have too many critics, talking heads and those prospering off division. Good leaders connect, not divide, encourage, not discourage and inspire, not disparage. Leadership is about purpose, it’s about drive and it’s about guiding. To get the best out of others, you need to put the best in becoming your best self.

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