Business Tips, Skills & Resources

What Sets Leaders Apart

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What I learned from the World of Business Ideas’ Leadership Forum Broadcast

Written by Sofía Maradiaga, student at Unitec Honduras

Before the WOBI Leadership Forum, like me, you probably viewed leadership as a characteristic that only certain people are born with, a je ne sais quoi that sets those individuals apart and marks them as leaders.

As it turns out leadership is not just a single trait that some people are lucky to possess, but actually the result of a combination of factors such as a high-level of emotional intelligence, optimism, perseverance, self-confidence and problem-solving capabilities, among others. With this knowledge, it is safe to say, that we can all become leaders through the development of the aforementioned qualities. It might seem impossible, but if we add some of the advice from the speakers of World Leadership Forum speakers into our routine, there is no doubt that we would see positive results in several aspects of our life, which was is a very important lesson that I took away from it (even though the event passed by in March 2015!).

I am now going to share with you other aspects that I found particularly useful.

Leaders are than the average person

According to Tal Ben-Shahar, one of the world’s top experts on positive psychology and happiness, the traits that differentiates “true leaders” from the rest are Strengths, Health, Absorption, Relationships, and Purpose, otherwise known as S.H.A.R.P. So how does each term apply to leadership?

  • The first part of the acronym, Strengths, actually derives from the ancient Greek aphorism for “know thyself”. In his talk, Ben-Shahar pointed out that leaders know themselves pretty well, especially their strengths and passions. This awareness enabled them to use and enhance these traits accordingly to achieve peak performance in their jobs. So rather than focusing on our weaknesses (like many of us tend to do) we must work more on improving our positive qualities that set us apart from everyone else.
  • The second, Health, is also crucial, and leaders know exactly how to tackle one of today’s biggest health concerns: stress. Using Ben-Shahar’s simile, our brain is like another muscle that we can exercise, and stress just happens to be a good workout for the mind. Following this thread of thought, on non-continuous levels, stress actually strengthens this vital organ over time and helps us boost our brainpower, productivity, motivation to succeed and ability to handle future stressful situations1. Next time stress hits you, try to take small, but relaxing breaks to let your mind recover, and become stronger.
  • Another quality that Ben-Shahar highlights is Absorption, which in this case refers to how engaged you are with your current activity. Leaders tend to live every moment of their day fully consciousness and in the “here and now”. In a world where multitasking a huge necessity (and pressure), true leaders know how to properly focus on the task at hand, therefore enabling them to make better decisions and be generally happier in their job.
  • Our next key trait is Relationships. A team can make or break a workplace. An outstanding leader knows how to generate an agreeable and stable working environment through the development of solid connections and positive interaction between team members of the organization. Leaders also understand the importance of leading by example, rather than simple words or orders, because it is our nature to imitate what other people do and not just do as we are told.
  • Last, but not least, is Purpose. If we aspire to lead efficiently, we will gain a much more positive outlook in our jobs. This means being convinced that what we’re doing has the power to have real impact other people’s lives, however few or many, however big or small. This new and meaningful perception of our work will increase our own productivity and creativity, giving you vision and passion, making others want to follow you and build towards a common goal.

Leaders need Courage
Captain Richard Phillips, whose harrowing experience with Somali pirates was made into a movie, demonstrated other great aspects of leadership. Sometimes as leaders we need to make tough decision in difficult moments or unexpected events, with little knowledge and much risk; such a task undoubtedly requires a lot of courage.

Another powerful lesson he shared during his conference was that new problems cannot be solved with old solutions. When new conflicts and situations arise in your company, “tried and tested” answers are not always right route to take. Sometimes we have to take risks and try something new, which is why Captain Richard Phillips says, “one learns and becomes stronger with every decision, regardless if it be right or wrong.”

Mindfulness: An unexpected Key to Success
Mindfulness can be defined as a state of mind where one is constantly aware of one’s feelings, current thoughts and body. Doesn’t exactly sound like something that could turn you into a CEO from Fortune 500, right? We should think again. Absorption, as mentioned before, is another word for Mindfulness. Not only did Tal Ben-Shahar list it as a key ingredient in leadership, but two other WOBI speakers, Travis Bradberry and Scott Eblin, also highlighted its importance.

Mindfulness was also the buzzword in a recent Harvard Business Review article, pointing out that companies like Google, Apple, General Mills and Goldman Sachs, practice meditation regularly in their offices.

According to University of California’s Greater Good, mindfulness has been shown to increase positive emotions, decrease negative thoughts and stress. We have since learned why Steve Jobs was so zealous with meditation and mindfulness. By adopting what may seem like an alternative habit can develop positivity in our daily lives, which in turn increases productivity, happiness and clear decision-making.

So next time you face a work related dilemma, try meditating!

There were of course many more lessons learned from the WOBI Leadership Forum that had a greater impact for me. What about you? Which was your favorite speaker? What did you learn from the Live Broadcast?

If this inspired you, why not sign up to see the World Business Forum Storymaker conference on November 12 and 13!
Additional Sources used:

MacMillan, A. (2014). 5 Weird Ways Stress Can Actually Be Good for You. USA: News & Views.

Weiss, L. (n.d.). Mindfulness. Berkeley. USA: The Greater Good: The University of California.

George, B. (2014). Developing Mindful Leaders for the C-Suite. Boston, USA: University of Harvard.

About the Author

Laureate Connect

Laureate Connect

Laureate Connect is an online platform, promoting the international and collaboration benefits of being part of a global higher education group. This platform encourages conversations among the Laureate community, increasing engagement with each other and helping materialize the idea of being connected as a global network.