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What Makes a Leader?

What makes a leader? If you find yourself pondering this question from time to time, you are not alone. Leaders evolve, and as such, are continuously trying to figure this one out. It’s not the definition of a leader that stumps us, as much as defining who we want to be as a leader and the traits and characteristics we aspire to.

One definition on leadership that captures the essence of what leaders do was offered by Kevin Kruse (Forbes, April 2013): “Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” So how might this definition shape the leadership traits and characteristics we aspire to? Here are four areas to consider, shared by Sharon Contreras, Superintendent of the Syracuse City School District, who recently spoke at PLS’ SheFORWARD mastermind group.

Persistence. If you believe in the vision, keep going. It might be difficult, and there may be some opposition. Remain open to others’ ideas and new ways of doing things, and to the possibility that we don’t know everything we need to. Be persistent and remain flexible. And just keep going!

Courage. Marianne Williamson wrote, “It is our light, not our darkness, that most frighten us.” Get uncomfortable – push to your outer limit. Believe that you can do more and that your people can do more as well. There is no room for complacency in leadership.

Mentorship. In Sharon’s words, “…as leaders, we have an obligation to mentor.” Take an active interest in the development of others. Leave a mark on the world by generously sharing your gifts and talents. The best part about mentorship is that we have a tremendous opportunity to learn from our mentees in return.

Speak Up. And this might take some courage. It can be awkward to say how we feel or what we think, especially if we are in the minority. We think we aren’t good enough, smart enough, or experienced enough. When you find yourself remaining silent, ask yourself why? Why are you silent? Is remaining silent helpful or hindering your goals and vision?

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