How to Become a Great Leader

Dori Meinert By Dori Meinert June 19, 2018
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CHICAGO—What's the secret to becoming a great leader? (Hint: It's not about your title.)

For one thing, you've got to work at it, said Steve Gilliland, a motivational speaker and author who spoke to HR professionals at a mega session at the SHRM 2018 Annual Conference & Exposition on Tuesday.

Too often, leaders confuse profits with purpose and disregard the principles that drive people.

Leadership is not about what title you have or even how many employees report to you, he said, noting that the greatest leader he ever knew was a secretary who worked for him years ago. She taught him that leadership is about how much influence you have.

"You'll know you've arrived as a leader when people follow you because they want to—and not because they have to," said Gilliland, author of Detour (Advantage Media Group, 2015) and Enjoy the Ride (Elevate, 2007).

If you want people to follow you because they want to and not because they have to, focus on instilling in them three things: purpose, passion and pride.

"Purpose is what drives you. Passion fuels you. Pride defines you," he said.

To gain influence, you must first earn people's trust and respect. Start that process by learning as much as you can. He said he reads three books a month. "If you don't grow yourself, you can't grow them," he said.

You also need to show people that you care. Ask about their children. Find out what their interests are. Something as simple as a kind word can make a difference to those around you.

"You get a chance to influence people every day," he said. So, make sure what you say or do improves the situation. You'll notice a ripple effect. If you're kind to others, they'll be kind to those around them.

If you want people to follow you, help center them. "Remind them why you do what you do," he said. For example, when speaking to a company that sold hospital equipment, he reminded them that they help save lives.

"When the 'why' is clear, the 'how' is easy," he said.

Finally, appreciate good people because they're hard to find, he said.

He asked the audience: When is the last time you thanked your employees? When is the last time you invited them into your office for a compliment—instead of a reprimand?

Gilliland's message resonated with audience member Deanna Moore, HR manager at Dawson, a federal contractor in Clarksville, Tenn.

She found his advice on giving more positive feedback relevant for her whole life—personal and professional.

"The 'thank you' is so simple," she said. "That breaks a lot of barriers just by being positive and saying thank you. It almost had me in tears for a minute."

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