Leadership is not about the title. It’s about whether someone is following you. Leadership is about who you’re being, rather than what you’re doing. What does it take to be a real leader?
Being a leader forces us to make tough decisions every day. We’ll be crippled if we make them based on trying to be liked by everybody. But if we stick to our guns and make decisions that are best for organizations while taking care of our people, we’re going to be just fine.
I don’t believe that leaders are born, not made. Some people have innate qualities that make them very charismatic, but I believe that you can learn leadership traits. Here are five qualities to work on if you truly want to be a leader.
1. Be approachable and trustworthy. Anyone can be a leader — if folks follow, then they’re a leader. Leaders are influencers and coaches. Both roles have to do with building trust. If your people see you as a genuine, flawed human who they can respect, they’ll be willing to follow you because of your vision. The challenge in the workplace is that there are plenty of bad leaders who influence people incorrectly.
Once you have someone’s trust, you can influence their daily actions, their paths, their view of the organization and even their view of their career. At that level of trust, they open up to you and tell you what they need to achieve their goals. When someone does that, it’s a sure sign of leadership.
That’s why leaders must be approachable. This takes trust on both sides, but the best thing a leader can do is adopt a style that encourages feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask your people for their viewpoint. They’ll be honest if they think you genuinely care about their response.
2. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. We’ve heard this many times from the greatest minds across business and politics, but it’s important. Even a leader must have other people to fall back on. Bill Gates may have been one of greatest computer minds of our time, but that didn’t automatically mean that he would create a successful business. He needed other people to succeed. As Martin Zwilling, the founder of Startup Professionals, said, “True leaders also know how to move out of the way to let others do what they do best.”
3. Acknowledge your mistakes. Every leader is going to make mistakes. Any leader worth their salt should acknowledge them or they’ll lose people’s trust immediately. No employee expects perfection. It’s okay to say, “I messed up.” People who can’t say that typically don’t hold a leadership spot for very long.
4. Delegate effectively. A good leader must be able to maximize the potential of his or her people. Surrounding ourselves with smart people and recruiting the best and the brightest is useless if we don’t trust their judgment and give them both the freedom and the tools to maximize their talents to move forward toward a shared vision.
From a developmental standpoint, one of the best ways to maximize people’s potential is through delegating higher-level projects to them. Much of effective delegation comes down to looking at the skillset you need to get a certain project done, identifying that skillset in one of your people and then combining the two. Rather than dumping a project on someone, it should be a cooperative effort.
5. Serve selflessly. We always end up back at the age-old idea of servant leadership. A good leader does have to be selfless. He or she should be a buffer against negativity, whether it’s between critics and our people or what’s going on in the outside world and what we’re trying to achieve. As leaders, we’re going to ask a lot out of our people. So, we need to give some back when they need something.
Maybe that’s recognition of their hard work or pitching in on a project when you don’t have to. A leader who rolls up their sleeves and gets dirty from time to time will create a loyalty in his or her people that will result in achieving goals beyond what we usually expect.
One of biggest things we can do to further our own leadership qualities is make sure we’re constantly updating our own skills. Finding the time to work on our own skills as well as outlets with useful information does get harder the higher up we get. But it’s also critical that we spend some time with other likeminded leaders. That points back to surrounding ourselves with smart people and finding other leaders we can network with to continue to hone our craft.
If politics teaches us anything, it’s that you can be a highly respected leader one day and ousted the next. In the private sector, if we don’t continue to stay focused on our skills to better serve, we will find ourselves unable to serve our people as leaders.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.