The term "leader" has been used almost to the point of over-saturation, now branding anyone who serves in a leadership role. But there is far more involved in being a leader than simply holding a title.
The varied examples of leadership are many, ranging from the Fortune 500 to Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For. Though both lists contain highly successful companies, there is a often a noticeable difference in the way they're run, with one focused on a more traditional model of profitability (driven toward the bottom line) while the other seeks to provide a more modern approach to business, with leaders that strive to bring out the best in their employees, a process that in turn enables those people to contribute to the organization more creatively - contributions that in themselves drive the success of the venture.

And this process starts at the top.

Defining a Leader

There are a limitless number of ways to describe the attributes of a true leader. However, taking into account the new focus on employee-centric companies mentioned above, leaders in these organizations are driven by what they can do for other people and, as such, often possess the following traits:
  • Readily willing to listen and make decisions based on a diverse range of views
  • Acts as a guide or a coach, as opposed to those who dictate
  • Provides credit for success to subordinates (rather than accepting it for themselves)
  • Enables and empowers by providing free reign on business functions
  • Enlightens people through development and education, whether based on the leader's personal experience or outside resources
  • Inspires others through a level of personal belief in the business venture
  • Motivates people through positive reinforcement and rewards
  • Leads by example
  • Serves people, looking out for their best interest

Serving Others Through Empowerment

The above mentioned traits have one thing at their center: people. And it's this focus on people that seems to motivate many of the most successful leaders, from athletic coaches to business entrepreneurs. Often possessing an innate ability to see in others what those people may not see in themselves, the true leader cultivates the best in people and genuinely wants to see them succeed.
Also viewed as a mentor, the true leader delivers empowerment by providing resources, enabling others to realize options and possibilities they hadn't thought of through exposure to external or internal education and development. Within this scenario, the leader is motivated to liberate subordinates rather than control them, thereby generating a more collaborative environment that leads to innovation, competitive edge and overall success.

Though this approach is impractical for military or law enforcement, where following the orders of an authoritarian leader is necessary due to the often confidential nature of information, on the whole, true leaders in the civilian world strive to help others learn, grow and develop by freeing them from the limitations that hold them back. In doing so, these individuals inspire a natural state of loyalty that, as seen in the 100 Best Companies to Work For cited above, leads to unquestionable success.