Leadership isn't the title you wear. It's the way you treat those around you.

Staff Writer

When it comes to leading a team, it’s the soft skills then tend to drive the biggest impact. In order to be a leader, you can’t just call yourself a leader–you have to earn it. You have to walk your own walk, and ensure that the very qualities you are preaching, you embody yourself.

To be a successful CEO, you can’t position yourself as some faceless leader who sits in your ivory tower and orders people around. That doesn’t humanize you to anybody, much less your team–whom you want to inspire. Trust me, you don’t want to be the kind of boss who has your own personal espresso maker in your office. You want to be the kind that gets your coffee at the coffee machine in the employee kitchen, just like everybody else. You want to be a populist leader.

When you treat leadership as a result of your actions and not as a title, you begin to earn a different level of respect and trust from those you work with–from other leadership team members to employees. You will become more visible, more approachable, and ultimately more well received. As much as people think that being the boss means everybody has to listen to you, that’s not the full story. It’s a whole lot harder to get people to care about what you’re building when they don’t like you.

So, whether you’re a first-time founder or a seasoned CEO, these are 5 leadership tips you should never forget.

1. Take an interest in those you work with as people–not as an employees.

At the end of the day, you aren’t employing robots. You’re employing people. And people want to feel heard, understood, and appreciated.

Get to know them as individuals, learn about their families, what drives them and gets them excited. Chit-chat with them when you cross paths in the office. “Hey, Suzie, how’re you doing? How was Johnny’s soccer game?”

Forget the business side of your relationship for a minute, and show them that you care about them as humans, not just as cogs in the machine. And don’t be phony about it. You have to be sincere, because the fakers will get exposed.

2. Don’t be a “nervous Nelly” leader.

Over the years, I have encountered a lot of managers, directors, vice presidents, even C-level executives who have a hard time “pulling the trigger” on a decision. Some might call these “nervous Nellies” careful leaders, but (if you ask me) I think these people just lack the confidence to put themselves out there and make a decision.

This is how a culture of indecision spreads like wildfire throughout a company. If employees see their boss can’t make a decision, what lesson do you think they are going to take away?

Not a positive one, I’ll tell you that.

As the leader of your company, you can’t get caught up in “paralysis by analysis.” If you are stuck on a decision, ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I make the wrong move?” No matter what you choose, it can’t be as bad as what happens when you stay paralyzed–which is nothing.

3. Become skilled at both making strategic and tactical decisions.

Tactical leadership is doing things right.

Strategic leadership is doing the right things.

The greatest CEOs are visionaries, not just one-trick ponies. They’re always plotting their company’s next big move. So if you see a way to improve your business, you’d better have the vision and the guts to pull the trigger, even if the naysayers say it can’t be done.

However, you also better be able to execute. Any coach will tell you that. So, while you’re gazing into your crystal ball and looking for the next “big thing,” you also have to keep operating your business. That’s where tactical leadership comes into play.

Strategy-tactics is the yin-yang of corporate leadership. And having the ability to do both extremely well is mental multitasking of the highest degree. It’s all about having one foot in the now and one foot in the future.

4. Don’t wait for someone else to believe in you–or your idea.

Leaders become leaders by having higher expectations for themselves than anyone else could ever have for them.

The truth is, no one is going to believe in your big idea or your leadership unless you believe in yourself, first. You have to make it your daily mantra. You have to wake up every day and be so confident in your success that others can feel your enthusiasm, being able to visualize your “big dream” when you’re talking. You have to ooze passion out of every pore of your body.

Some people misunderstand what I mean by this, and think it’s all about putting on a show. It’s really not. It’s about genuinely expressing ambition and exemplifying that in everything you do.

The whole world may think you’re nuts. Everyone around you might look at you like you’re crazy. But if you know it’s true, you’ve got a shot. And that’s when people will start to rally behind you.

5. Fight when you know you’re right.

Running your own business can be a real thrill ride. But it can also be a battle and sometimes even a flat-out war for you to move the ship forward.

There will be times when some of your most trusted lieutenants will run for cover when things don’t go as planned. But if you’re a leader who has a great strategy, don’t tuck tail and run just because your business partners don’t have the courage and vision you have. You have to trust that gut instinct of yours, and not be afraid to keep pushing your business into the future.

There will always be “naysayers” who claim it can’t be done. Sometimes, the people holding the “caution flag” will be your friends, business partners, even mentors–and occasionally, they may even be right. So, be smart. Bravery can get you killed if you don’t know what you’re doing. But also keep in mind that anything worth doing in life–starting your own business, getting married, having kids–has some kind of risk attached to it.

Anything you try could crash and burn, but that doesn’t mean you should play defense your whole life.

A real leader knows when it’s time to defend, and when it’s time to storm the castle.