Some lessons on leadership from Ravin Gandi writing for Entrepreneur.com

“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” –Alexander the Great

The quote provides insight as to why leadership is so crucial to entrepreneurship; the person at the top usually is the difference between success and failure.

Most of us have encountered natural leaders — people who instinctively do the right thing and effortlessly make average people into exceptional performers. But for the majority of us, leadership is something we have to work on. The million-dollar question is this: can leadership really be learned?

In my experience, the answer is unequivocally YES. With that in mind, here are 12 points I have found to be invaluable in my journey as an entrepreneur and a leader:

1. Be decisive.

A reality for any leader is that many people need decisions from you, and if you can’t make them quickly your organization is going to suffer. Get high-level summaries, weigh the options and then make the call.

Don’t agonize, over analyze or second-guess yourself. Many times, no decision is worse than a wrong decision because inaction paralyzes staff, prevents progress and destroys morale.

2. Embrace change.

As a leader it’s your job to drive change, not avoid it. Why? Because technological innovation can turn multi-billion dollar industries upside down overnight, and if you’re too set in your ways, you won’t see it coming. A big part of “seeing around corners” is being proactive about change when things are working well — before problems actually arise.

3. Be inspirational.

When the going gets tough, people need to feel that everything is going to be OK. They inevitably look to their leaders for motivation and encouragement. Leaders need to project hope and positivity, while keeping the organization focused by combating weakness, negativity and mediocrity. Trust your talent, be bold and people will line up behind you.

4. Be empathetic.

When I deal with a difficult conversation or negotiation, I try to place myself in the shoes of the other person. Having empathy is crucial to leaders, because we are constantly dealing with people management and communication. When you are able to see things as the other person does, you’re much likelier to come up with a solution that the other person is invested in.

5. Control your emotions.

If I get an email that makes me angry, I will type up a draft response that may be aggressive and sharply worded. But I don’t send it. I sleep on it, and the next day I usually find my response was driven by negative emotion and not appropriate.

Your mood has a huge impact on your judgment, and as a leader it’s your responsibility to manage your emotions mindfully.

6. Be persuasive.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” Effective leaders aggressively sell their vision, and win over naysayers with substance and character. Remember, your job isn’t to please everyone — it is to get the job done right, even if that ruffles some feathers. Celebrate positive results and have a concise message about why your path is the right one.

7. Seek out advice.

Anyone who says they have all the answers is deluded or dishonest. Leaders know good advice is worth its weight in gold and actively seek it out. Cultivate a group of people who know you well, including perhaps a spouse, mentor or trusted friend. These people can be insightful in pointing out a blind spot in your thinking, especially when they are not part of your everyday decision-making process.

It can be intoxicating to be in charge of a large organization, but don’t drink the Kool-Aid and believe all the nice things people may say about you. Leadership is about bringing the best out in others, not building a narcissistic cult of personality. Stay humble, and never lose touch with the most important individuals: the people who follow you and make you succeed.

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