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Leadership tips from great leaders

You, too, can be an inspiring boss—just follow in the footsteps of other great leaders.

Jen Weigel

July 12, 2011

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What do Nelson Mandela, Teddy Roosevelt and Golda Meir have in common? They all possessed the essential traits of great leadership.

"Leadership is one of the most complex undertakings anyone will face," says Doug Moran, author of "If You Will Lead: Enduring Wisdom for 21st Century Leaders" (Agate, $28).  "If we take the easy way out, it will likely get us in trouble."

Moran says great leaders are happy to bring out the best in others. They are also authentic, composed, resilient and inspiring. But that having these attributes isn't enough — it's how you apply them in your leadership role that counts, he says.

"I was struck by the number of leaders I spoke with who believed having character was the same thing as leading with it," he says. "They think that all they have to do is live according to their beliefs and values, and that will encourage others to do the same. Unless you tell people why you are behaving a certain way, they will draw their own conclusions about your motivations." 

Moran also found that the best leaders are confident enough in who they are to do a 180-degree shift of their opinion, either because more information becomes available or they have a change of heart. "Integrity sometimes means changing our position on issues that are important to us, or even define us," he says. 

Here are Moran's tips on becoming a better leader.

Know yourself

"This means knowing who you are, what you believe, what you value, what you are good at and what you aren't," Moran says.

Leaders who did this: Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt

How they did it: The ability to be authentic in every situation, whether you're with the general public or the person in charge, is key. "Teddy Roosevelt was amazing at this because he would be equally effective leading an expedition in the Amazon as he was being the president," Moran says.

Know what you want

"Once you know what really matters to you, you can begin solving the problems in the world around you," Moran says.

Leaders who did this: Thomas Jefferson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

How they did it: King's ambitions went beyond ending segregation, but that was his immediate goal. So he focused on using precise language that catered to whatever audience he was addressing at the time to get his message across. "For those who said ending segregation wasn't their problem, he had a way of communicating his vision of hope to let them know it was everybody's problem," Moran says.

Make yourself someone others want to follow

"Leadership isn't about position or titles," Moran says. "True leaders are the people others choose to follow."

Leaders who do/did this: Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa

How they did it: By being just as dedicated and passionate about the everyday things as the big picture. "For Mother Teresa, she didn't try to get people to do things," Moran says. "She was so passionate about her beliefs and her faith, she inspired others. She did it herself and others wanted to follow her. She had this incredible leap of faith to start doing things without knowing where the money was coming from, and that gave her the ability to get others to want to help be part of the solution."

Earn the privilege to lead, every day

"Once people choose to follow you, you have an obligation to prove yourself worthy," Moran says.

Leaders who did this: Golda Meir, George Washington

How they did it: By keeping their cool. "Composure is one of the hardest things to maintain when you are leading others," Moran says. "George Washington kept a level head when disaster hit. He not only got people jazzed up to follow him, but was able to get them to continue to follow and not overreact when things were going wrong. He kept people on an even keel, and that's very difficult."

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel