True confession: there have been some years that I grew so tired of leadership books that I couldn’t even walk into a bookstore for fearing of seeing another.
After pulling myself together, it occurred to me that we could all put this debate to rest with a single word: faith.
I don’t mean faith in the religious sense.
Leadership is about earning and retaining the faith of others.
It’s not about being ego-driven and charismatic versus being selfless and soft-spoken. These are personal qualities that have little to do with leadership. It’s not about being a taskmaster versus being a nurturing presence.
If you want to be a leader, your focus needs to be on earning the faith of people around you.
People want great leaders to succeed. They want to have faith that if the leader succeeds, they, too, will succeed.
“To have faith in a leader,’ wrote Gardiner Morse in a classic HBR article, “People must also believe in his or her competence and steadiness. That’s why it’s so important that leaders have both character and capacity. Each is essential to earning people’s trust.”
In other words, to earn faith you must have empathy for the circumstances of others and must commit yourself to improving those circumstances.
There is not just one way to accomplish this, because there is not just one situation in life.
If you seek to rally people who have no food, clothing or shelter, you may employ a strategy that fulfills their basic human needs. But if you want to win over investors who crave a 20% rather than a 4% return, you will follow a different path altogether.
Either way, the question in your mind should be: how can I earn their faith?
Talking will not be enough. Vision will not be enough.
To earn faith, you actually have to do stuff. You need results. You need to overcome obstacles and get back up after you’ve been knocked down.
I’m not just talking to Fortune 500 CEOs or business executives in general. You can be a leader in your local community or on your pickup soccer team. You can volunteer at a non-profit organization and become an effective leader there.
Leadership does not have to be about money and profits. It can just as easily be about making a few lives better, or about solving a problem that has long plagued a group of people.
Here’s the rub. Many aspiring leaders think that leadership is about being the smartest person in the room, the loudest, the most charismatic, or the wealthiest. None of these are true.
It’s about faith. Start small. Achieve results. Earn confidence. Listen hard. Be empathetic. Think before you talk.
Over time, you will earn the faith of others. When you do, don’t let it go to your head. Don’t suddenly act like an ego-driven Master of the Universe. Once you do this, the faith that people have in you will start to erode.
Leadership isn’t complicated, but it is hard. No one ever said it was easy to earn and hold the faith of others. But it is easier when you understand that this is what powers all effective leaders.
This article was written by Bruce Kasanoff from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.