7 Ways to Become a Business Leader That People Are Excited to Follow

a person sitting in front of a window: 7 Ways to Become a Business Leader That People Are Excited to Follow © Getty Images 7 Ways to Become a Business Leader That People Are Excited to Follow

The rules for being a business leader role model have changed in this Internet age.

Not so long ago, business leaders operated behind the scenes, and even long-time employees rarely heard from them or saw them in the news. Today, with the Internet and social media, if you aren’t visible in a positive way to everyone, including customers, your leadership efforts will be lost. To be a successful leader, you have to be willing to be a public figure and display the right attributes.

As an advisor to aspiring entrepreneurs, I find that many assume that their passion and their innovative solution will define them as a leader, and customers and team members will then follow them to the ends of the earth, assuring business success. In reality, you may need to focus even more on your image as a leader than on the value of your offering for that to happen.

In my experience, it means it will likely be necessary to supplement your product business plan with some key personal initiatives that define you as a business leader role model for all to see:

1. Take a visible leadership role in your industry.

Allocate time for active participation in relevant industry conferences, public panels or TED talks that look ahead. Online, it may be time to take a formal position via blogs and interviews. You need to be visible in marketing efforts, viral videos, and interactions with key customer segments.

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Many people believe that Steve Jobs did not become a recognized business leader until after his return to Apple in 1997 when he became more visible, changed his business style, and focused on communicating the big picture, rather than product development.

2. Build relationships with known business leaders.

The old fable of “you are known by the company you keep” has never been more true. In this age of total access via the Internet, you can’t hide relationships or the lack of them. Some entrepreneurs I know attempt to retain control, or save money, by eschewing advisors and using stealth mode.

In the early days of the IBM PC, I had the opportunity to know and work with Bill Gates at Microsoft. I can attest that he was always seeking relationships with other more mature executives, and even today maintains a mentoring relationship with Warren Buffett.

3. Foster an image of being open-minded and ready to learn.

We all believe that an effective leader in this age of change must be constantly open to new insights, always intellectually curious, and in pursuit of wisdom from smart people. The old models of leadership, including autocratic, defensive, and narcissistic, won’t brand you as a strong leader these days.

4. Always be willing and able to communicate.

People won’t follow you if they don’t know where you are going, or why. Make sure you communicate the right message, and use every channel possible, including body language, to make sure the message is understood by everyone. Be transparent, yet positive, about the challenges ahead.

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5. Project and inspire trust and confidence.

Everyone has fears and qualms as they are led out of their comfort zone, and into the unknowns of a changing world. You need to be confident and trusted so people will choose to follow you, and you need to make it clear that you have confidence and trust in the people you work with, as well as customers.

6. Set goals and celebrate progress and results.

People measure your leadership by your ability to define aggressive yet reasonable targets, with milestones, and the ability to celebrate progress along the way. That means public recognition of individual achievements, providing feedback, and coaching and mentoring along the way.

7. Be self-starting and tenacious on key challenges.

Every business leader must be t role model for tackling problems and never giving up until they are resolved, without playing the victim, placing blame, or not making a decision. That ability to take on a challenge outside your normal realm is a key to leadership that everyone respects.

While these attributes are critical to being a role model for business leaders today, I recognize that some of you are not comfortable or interested in the visibility and stress implied by this role.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t be an entrepreneur today, or feel success and satisfaction from your efforts. It just means that you need to temper your aspirations to fit the real you, and have fun.

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