Will Ainsworth: Forget the capes and fancy titles

Leadership is commonly associated with superheroes in capes, but Will Ainsworth says it doesn’t have to be. Here,Openn’s head of growth explains why the quiet, unsung heroes can make just as effective leaders if they put the right actions in place.

When you visualise a leader, what do you think of?

For me, it’s either a superhero or the captain of a professional sports team. 

We’re conditioned to put leadership on a pedestal, and maybe it’s for the right reasons.

We all have someone who we look up to that embodies the virtues of a good leader. 

But then there’s the everyday, unsuspecting and unheroic leadership. The actions that don’t come with a big title but have the potential to change someone’s life.

Maybe it’s by showing a little compassion for someone when your experience would tell you they’re slacking off.

Perhaps it’s in stopping to listen to that crazy idea from the new guy in the office. Or even stop and tell someone they’re doing a good job once in a while. 

When you stop and reflect on a moment where someone said or did something that fundamentally made your life better, I suspect you’ll find they weren’t the same type of leader you first visualised. 

So, what makes a great leader?

What is the difference between the everyday leadership we can all show and the traits of those we truly admire?

There are a lot of qualities we can all list and debate. From my experience, I’d say the top five would be:

  1. Humility – being self-aware, knowing when you’re wrong and taking opportunities to shine the spotlight on your team’s wins.
  2. Resilience – the ability to sustain your own energy levels and your team’s when under pressure.
  3. Curiosity – Asking ‘why’ and empowering staff to do the same creates a culture devoid of fear (one of the biggest barriers to staff engagement).
  4. Integrity – following through, owning your mistakes and modelling ethical behaviour.
  5. Courage – enduring hardship and criticism, relinquishing control and continually seeking to be bold. 

But then there are the things you physically do, combined with the way you act.

None of these require a cape, captaincy or a fancy title.

Over my time, I’ve had the blessing of working with some exceptional leaders.

What sets them apart is their ability to embody these virtues every day. 

We all have our own styles and brand, but from my perspective, I’ve noticed a few key truths the most effective leaders all seem to show. 

They predict and prepare for change

Effective leaders don’t allow themselves to be at the mercy of the future.

They shape it and control it by ensuring they’re spending time with the right people. 

They are always listening and asking questions – consistently learning about potential externalities.

An ability to inspire and motivate

A leader’s skill for affecting change relies on their capacity to build a connection with a diverse range of people who are different to them.

A willingness to leap

Often, we bestow great leadership on those with the most experience.

While pattern recognition, accompanied by tested principles, help garner success, the best leaders are those willing to abandon them.

Who dares to be different.

Whether you’re at the pinnacle of your career managing large teams or just starting on the hunt for your first sale, don’t put a box around leadership.

No one owns it, and no one has completed it. You have the opportunity to lead today. Take the leap.

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