by Vivian Giang
One of the greatest traits in leaders is that they are able to handle being at the top so effortlessly that you wonder if they ever doubted themselves.
According to Deirdre Maloney, a speaker and author, these people do struggle, but they've also mastered how they're viewed by others.
"Great leaders know that every step they take, every decision they make, matters in the end," she wrote in her book "Tough Truths."
"They know they must strategize carefully, then act aggressively. They know they must think ahead — not just to their next step — but to the many steps after it. They know they must always be on the look-out for opportunities, and for others who will fight them for the same."
In her book, Maloney shared 11 tough leadership lessons that aren't usually discussed by those on top.
Everything is politics
This is not about the politicians, but about the politics that we have to face every day, because "we interact with people who have what we want, and who want what we have to give."
This is not a bad thing.
"Whether we want our boss to give us a raise, our child to stop squirming on the airplane, or the department store to take back our purchase when we don't have a receipt, every single interaction involves influencing and persuading others in order to get what we want.
And great leaders understand that this persuasion is everywhere and that not only do you have to have great work ethic, you also have to have the "ability to have relatable, effective and influential relationships."
Even when you don't think that someone you meet can do something for you at the moment, you know that they could be a significant factor in the future.
Success makes you unpopular
When you're a leader-in-progress, you will have people supporting you whether that's your boss or colleagues. However, once you start achieving the expectations that these people have, you'll become less-liked by them.
Your success has made you unpopular.
Maloney said that to be a great leader, you need to have a "strong will and an even stronger stomach." At the end of the day, you need to remind yourself that your job isn't to make everyone happy, but rather to improve the organization as a whole.
You aren't really that interesting
Everyone thinks that they're interesting, but great leaders know that their stories aren't as interesting to other people as it is to themselves. So they keep the focus on the other person.
"They keep their stories short, their complaints even shorter. They don't send long emails or memos that go on for pages. They leave the other person wanting more."
Instead, when you turn the attention on the other person, they will inevitably share more about themselves with you, and when this happens, a bond is formed and that's how you get people to trust you.
During these conversations, those great leaders never get your name wrong and they're fully focused on what you're saying.
Everyone is afraid
No matter how confident someone may seem, everyone is afraid of failing, because "we are afraid of screwing up. We are afraid of looking stupid."
But great leaders know that everyone they interact with is also afraid.
The reason why these people are so successful is because they are afraid, yet they act anyway. They go after what they believe, seek change and, ultimately, make a difference.
"They also believe they can take a risk because even if they fail, they'll fix it. Even if they look stupid, they aren't. Even if they appear weak, they're not."
Their fear doesn't hold them back, but, instead, it springs them into action, because not trying at all is worse than failing from an attempt.
Someone is always watching
If you had a bad morning before you meet with clients, you should never let it show on your face.
Why? Because someone is always watching. "People watch. People talk. And communities are small," Maloney said.
But how do you stay perfectly calm all the time? Maloney advised that everyone maintains a small exclusive group of people that they trust. Be careful in choosing these people and when you do let your guard down, make sure no one else is around.
So, the next time you want to roll your eyes, or fidget at the meeting table, remind yourself that someone is always watching.
You have to protect your energy
Great leaders understand what gives them energy and they increase these activities. They also know what soaks all of their energy and they decrease these interactions.
"Think about your energy. It's not just about what you like best, but about what feeds you, and what depletes you. And who. Do what you can to increase the good stuff and decrease the bad," Maloney wrote. "You just need to realize you have the power to do so. Much more than you may have thought."
Eliminate whatever it is in your life that's draining you and replace it with something that inspires you.
Confidence means confronting your weaknesses
They have no need to toot their own horn or tell others how great they are.
"Know that if you have to explain yourself constantly, take lots of credit, or refrain from risk, then you're not coming off as a top leader."
And when they are successful, they give credit to their staff, boards, volunteers and the community. They don't take compliments too seriously and the also take the responsibility when things don't go well, Maloney said.
In order to get to this confidence level, you first need to identify what your insecurities are and then deal with them. Once you know what these weaknesses are, you will also figure out what your strengths are and what you bring to your organization.
Great leaders must also be able to not take things personally when they hear negative things about themselves. They need to learn how to let things go.
You should never trash talk your team
If you've ever spoken negatively about your organization or the people you work with, you have not realized what great leaders have: Talking trash only hurts yourself.
Why? Because people will not trust you or build a deep relationship with you. They may even respect you less — and once that respect is lost, it takes a long time to win back.
Even if you don't initiate the conversation, if you take a passive role and laugh while others are talking, you are still guilty of participating. If you've ever rolled your eyes at someone or discussed someone else's personal life, then you're trash talking.
"As tempting as it is, don't trash talk about anyone or anything or any place you are connected to, unless it is with your absolutely small core circle of trusted people, your SWAT team."
You have to go beyond your responsibility
It's easy to go to our jobs and do the same tasks everyday. It's our responsibility and our life. Maloney said this is a comfortable, but wrong way of thinking.
"[Great leaders] don't work in existing systems. They change the systems to give them what they want. They come up with new options for jobs, projects and professional development that their bosses hadn't even thought of. They see an opportunity coming their way before most of the rest of us have looked up from our laptops, and they seize it."
"They convince others to let them try something new, move up before their resume says they should, take a risky new initiative. And they do it with confidence, with their fists pumped and a strong, knowing look in their eyes. And they get what they want."
You need to improve your interactions
The bottom line is that you need to be a communicator that people remember.
"Great leaders know that every interaction is an opportunity to connect with people in a way that is relatable and professional. To get a level deeper. To be memorable in some way. To get something — if not today, then perhaps tomorrow," Maloney said.
So don't ramble on, but instead, "provide just enough information about [yourself] that will intrigue" others.
"Practice making each conversation — written or in-person — excellent. Think through your words for just a second before you say them. Read your emails over before you send them. See them as an opportunity. Over time it won't just become second nature. It will make you rise above the rest."
You need to have a life outside work
It's important to have work-life balance, but aside from this, great leaders know that need a life so that they'll learn more about other people, gain a perspective and grow their own knowledge.
Because it's easy to fall into this "false idea that our work is all that matters," Maloney wrote.
"When you have a life, you realize that your life is not the sun. That you are not the center of all things important. That the lives of others don't revolve around you. That the issues you're dealing with at your organization don't matter to most people. That the challenges you face that feel so unique to you...aren't."
"That your successes are great...but others have them, too. That your failures hurt...but others have them, too."