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Developing the 3 attributes of great leaders

If you spend time studying the great leaders of our world you’ll be shocked at how different they are from one another. In fact, there are only three attributes that unite all great leaders.

1) They are wildly in love with their work
2) They blaze their own trail
3) They work insanely hard

So, how can you foster these attributes in yourself?

The first two will require significant introspection, research, honesty, and experimentation. However if you go through the process faithfully, working insanely hard will be relatively easy.

How to fall in love with your work

Why falling in love with your work matters
When I talk to successful entrepreneurs and leaders, I am amused by how often they compare their work to their family, lover, or religion.

At times I think this gets out of hand (I’m an advocate of balance, not obsession) but it’s important to realize that successful leaders work on projects they truly love. This is critical because it will help you overcome the inevitable resistance, barriers, and setbacks on the path to success.

Working on projects that you love gives you the motivation, desire, perseverance and tenacity required to surmount the inevitable obstacles you’ll encounter when pursuing something truly amazing. The trick of course is figuring out what sort of work you’ll love and what sort you should be avoiding.

How to find projects you’ll fall in love with
I can’t tell you what projects you’ll fall in love with, but I can give you a few strategies for determining which projects you’re likely to love. Ask yourself each of the questions below. The answers will provide you with hints as to where your passions lie. It’s your job to chase the rabbit further down the hole by reflecting and experimenting (more on that in a moment).

  • Think back to when you were a child. What did you want to be when you grew up? What were your dreams before school rewrote them for you? Do they still excite you today?
  • What simple things excite you that don’t seem to faze your friends? If a killer guitar solo from an obscure 1960’s space-metal band gets your heart pounding, that’s a sign.
  • What do you absolutely hate doing? Make sure there are as few of these elements in your work as possible.
  • What do your friends suggest you do? Ask them for their opinion about what work you would love doing.
  • What quirks of society drive you insane? If you continually notice the same problem (junk food, homelessness, inequality, clashing colors, etc.) then explore different ways you can work to correct it.

As you answer these questions for yourself, begin thinking about how you can translate these answers into work that you love doing.

Let’s say that you are bothered by homelessness, love the simple act of helping other people, and wanted to give all your money to beggars on the street when you were a child. This is a strong hint that you will fall in love with working to eradicate poverty in your community.

Blaze your own trail

It’s tempting to ask a successful person how she got so successful, and then just follow her path. Unfortunately this will just turn you into a watered down version of that person, and is an ineffective way to truly succeed at your highest level.

Instead, you must blaze your own trail. This requires a mixture of research, experimentation, and reflection.

Begin by researching and collecting as much information about your work as you can. Read everything you can get your hands on about your desired work. Take experts out for coffee and pick their brains. Attend trainings and conferences and webinars. Brainstorm.

If you want to work towards reducing poverty levels in your community, an abbreviated list of different approaches will include:

  • Collecting donations of used goods
  • Offering life skills classes
  • Helping people sign up for food stamps
  • Fundraising
  • Tutoring for underprivileged children

Experiment with the ideas that excite and frighten you. When you come across an idea that excites you or an idea that terrifies you, you know you’re onto something. It’s important to experiment with the ideas that terrify you because every time you face your fears you learn critical information about the world and yourself. You may be surprised to find that you love many of the things that initially terrified you.

Begin by eliminating the ideas that you’re apathetic about. Let’s say that you have no interest in collecting used goods or helping with food stamps. This leaves you with:

  • Teaching life skills classes
  • Fundraising
  • Tutoring

Find opportunities to experiment with each idea. Raise $200 for your favorite charity, give a guest lecture at a life skills class, and spend 20 hours volunteering in an after school program.
Your goal is to see what approach to poverty reduction works best for you.

Finally, reflect. Did those ideas work for you? Did you like them? Was there something surprising or intriguing?

Keep the ideas that work for you and get rid of the ones that don’t. Blend them all together and you have begun creating your own path.

Let’s say you didn’t care for teaching life-skills classes but you loved fundraising and tutoring at-risk youth. The best way for you to alleviate poverty would be by blending the two together. Maybe you can work in the development office of a tutoring program for at-risk youth. Perhaps you can start your own organization.

Work insanely hard

The final element that all leaders share is that they work insanely hard.

Most of the people you admire have sacrificed significant things for their achievements. Some have ignored their health, love life, friends, and family to get to where they are. While I believe that ignoring health, relationships, and happiness is a bad idea – success is rarely worth anything if you’re miserable and lonely – you will have to make some sacrifices.

It behooves you to get used to the following so that you have more time to drive into your work:

  • Waking up early or staying up late
  • Working with laser focus
  • Resisting the urge to throw in the towel
  • Ignoring the desire to check social media
  • Putting on a pot of coffee at midnight
  • Declining invitations to the latest, trendiest drunkfest

If you learn to work harder while sacrificing the parts of your life that don’t actually contribute to anything positive, you will be well on your way to becoming a world class leader.

What it all comes down to

Success and leadership aren’t easy. Anyone that tells you otherwise is selling snake oil while leading you into a trap; you’re best off ignoring and avoiding these people.

Your success and your ability to flourish as the type of leader who changes our world will come down to mastering the three things that unite every great leader:

1)      Falling in love with your work
2)      Blazing your own path
3)      Working insanely hard

Commit to these three and you will gain the ability to shape our world.

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