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5 Traits of Inspiring Business Leaders

Group of people climbing a snowy mountain

There is a critical distinction between supervisors, managers and inspiring business leaders in any workplace. Supervisors watch over people who are tasked with getting something done. Managers outline the tasks that need to be done to meet specific goals. Inspiring business leaders create an environment that supports a staff's ability to get its work done, influencing and motivating employees toward some shared mission and vision.

We are all familiar with iconic leaders such as John F. Kennedy, Bill Gates, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and many more. But great leaders don't have to be wildly popular and famous. Many exist in workplaces — large and small — across the country, known primarily to those they influence.

Pew Research Center has identified the top traits of leaders, based on 1,835 respondents. The top traits were: honesty, intelligence, decisiveness, organization and compassion. But how are these traits played out in the workplace? What, specifically, do you need to do if you wish to be viewed as an inspirational leader?

Here are 5 ways that you can become an inspirational leader for your staff:

Articulate a Clear Vision

Leaders know where they're going and they can clearly convey their goals to those who follow them. It's that shared vision that drives alignment and accountability. How can this vision be articulated? Through a variety of means: one-on-one and group meetings, employee communication tools like newsletters, intranet sites, brochures, company memos and etc. In fact, to be effective, the vision should be aligned and consistent across all organizational communication channels.

Set an Example

Leaders don't just lay down the law to those who follow them. They show, through their own words and deeds, that they expect the same of themselves as they do of others. This goes a long way toward establishing a reputation of honesty — the top trait of effective leaders, according to Pew. How do leaders know if they're setting a good example? They ask for feedback. The ability to demonstrate humility by seeking input from others is one of the hallmarks of effective leaders.

Get Out of the Way

Leaders are not doers; they are not managers. Their role is to inspire — to lay the foundation, provide the resources and support, and then get out of the way so employees can get their jobs done. That doesn't mean, though, that leaders abdicate all responsibility for the end work product. They play an important role in supporting employee efforts through feedback — both positive and constructive — to ensure that everybody is on the same path.

Communicate Frequently & Transparently

Creating a climate of trust requires frequent and open communication. Keeping employees informed of where the organization is headed, how it's doing and the critical role that employees play in that process boosts productivity, accountability and engagement.

Remain Open to Change

The world is changing rapidly due to technological advancements, changing population demographics and an increasingly global workforce. Companies that succeed in this environment are those that are led by leaders who are not afraid to change course, not afraid to admit that they were wrong and not afraid to take risks. While some well-known organizations like Blockbuster and Kodak have seen epic fails from not shifting direction quickly enough, many organizations have demonstrated the capacity to grow and change over many, many years as this list of America's oldest companies demonstrates.

Honesty, intelligence, decisiveness, organization and compassion. These are the traits that have driven many leaders to greatness and are not exclusive to large organizations — all of which, at some point, started out as small businesses. Nurturing these traits while running your small business can help you achieve greatness too.