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Leaders are not born. Nor is greatness instilled upon them. Leadership is not conferred by title or position, nor can it be taught or learned from reading books or articles. Leadership comes not from doing. Often, in fact, it's about doing nothing.
Rather, leadership is about being. It's a discipline that comes from within. It's about reaching inside to tap the skills and talents, the heart and drive to be all that you can be. It's about your ability to inspire trust, loyalty, commitment, and collegiality among team members. Credibility in leadership comes from competence (what you do), character (who you are), and connection (your relationship with followers).
What, then, are the elements of leadership that can help transform your heart, mind, and spirit to get people to think, believe, see and do what they might not have without you?
Character. Ground yourself in the core values that never change over time: honesty, respect, faith, perseverance, caring, and diligence. Or to put it simply, follow the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you would want to be treated. Strong moral underpinnings inspire trust and confidence.
Authenticity. You must be genuine. Don't pretend to be someone you're not. Make sure your actions and words are aligned with your core values. Guard against doing and saying things that are superficial or intended just to attract attention. Don't make changes just to put your fingerprints on things. The proof is in the follow-through. That's where the level of leadership commitment and influence becomes evident.
Vision. Always look ahead and develop a compelling vision of the future. One of the attributes that has marked survivors of the Nazi Holocaust was a powerful, overriding belief in their ability to positively influence the future. Live for today, but be guided by your vision of what it is you want to accomplish.
Optimism. In a related vein, be positive and upbeat. People are not likely to believe or to follow if they are not convinced that success is at hand. Don't be fool-hardy, but be confident in your own abilities and those around you.
Planning. Effective leaders begin with the end in mind in all their endeavors. They know where they are going and how they want to get there. They evaluate alternatives, consider their resources and plan constantly and meticulously.
Communication. Articulate your vision clearly and repeatedly. Spell out your plan of action, asking for everyone's support and showing confidence in a positive outcome. Keep those around you in the loop. Arm them with information that helps give them an accurate assessment of where they are, the odds against them, and what they have to do to achieve their goal. Make them feel part of an inner circle. That shows respect for them as individuals and their abilities, and fires their drive to participate. Communication is more than just top-down, fire-and-brimstone, whip-the-troops-into-shape motivation. Listen attentively so you are well grounded with your team and the environment that surrounds you. Know who your friends and enemies are and keep malcontents close to you to win their support.
Humility. Lead by example. Don't ever asked anyone to do anything that you wouldn't, couldn't or haven't done yourself. From the lowliest of assignments, pitch in and do the work. That will help provide an understanding of what you need others to do, plus it will underscore the can-do spirit focused on getting things done and inspiring your team. It will also take the wind out of the sails of any "nay-sayers" that may exist on your team.
Courage. In the face of adversity that inevitably will surface, remain true to your core principles, values and vision. The strongest tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It's the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.
Flexibility. Even when you plan constantly and meticulously, things often can and do go wrong. Evaluate why something isn't working, replace it with a better plan and move on. Don't stay stuck on the same plan if it's not working.
Enjoyment. A huge part of leadership comes in maintaining morale. Whether it's the drudgery of the day-to-day job or the pessimism that sets in when facing tremendous challenge, people need to have fun being around you. Use humor and other diversions to relieve tension.
Diversity. Broaden your cultural and social horizons beyond your usual experiences. Learning to see things from different perspectives will give you greater flexibility in problem solving at work. In a rapidly changing world, be willing to venture in new directions to seize new opportunities and learn new skills.
Empathy. Cultivate a sense of compassion and responsibility for others. You have a bigger impact on the lives of those under you than you can imagine. Always nurture and protect those around you.
Winning Attitude. Develop and stick to a routine that fosters an environment of security and productivity. Look for ways to create small victories that will lead to other, more important victories. Create a sense of accomplishment.
Continuous Improvement. Learn from mistakes, the ones you make and those made by others. Don't let failure paralyze you. Within those failures are the seeds for improvement. Look at them as opportunities for constructive growth. And develop ways to improve and develop yourself and those around you appropriately.
Empowerment. Surround yourself with people who have the skills you lack but that share your passion and vision. Then challenge them to live up to their capabilities. When people sense that you expect great things from them, they tend to be challenged by that expectation and work hard to live up to it. Load your people with responsibility (and the authority), provide them with the resources to do the job, and stand behind them when they make mistakes.
Responsibility. As a leader, your shoulders must be broad. Take responsibility for your actions. Don't make excuses. Accept the responsibility when things go wrong and learn from it so you and your team can grow and enhance performance.
Praise. The flip side of accepting responsibility when things don't work out as planned is to give the credit (publicly) to others when things go right. Never take credit for what someone else contributed to. Nothing will stifle their future contributions more quickly.
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