10 Traits That Reveal Your Leadership ‘Toughness’

The title of leadership, without a doubt, can make any of us feel a sense of power. It can elevate our confidence. It can make us feel appreciated and trusted by our organizations. But, it can also lead to a lot of self-doubt.

“I feel like my superiors believe in my abilities,” Kari, a regional retail manager recently told us. “But I’m not so certain that the employees I manage see me as a strong leader.”

Kari isn’t alone in her self-doubt. In fact, her concerns about her role as leader are quite common—especially with new managers. They’ve spent their entire careers attempting to impress their bosses, and, sometimes overnight, are now challenged to gain the respect of other employees.

“I actually feel more intimidated by employees, than I do of my leaders,” Kari told us. “And, I feel like I need to toughen-up.”

While many of us might think of ‘tough leaders’ as those bosses who worked us to the bone, avoided a personal relationship, or maybe threatened our existence within the organization, the two of us see ‘toughness’ differently—because the truly ‘tough’ leaders aren’t those who berate employees or manage through fear. Instead, they’re the leaders who truly face the toughest leadership challenges head-on. Tough leaders:

  1. Listen to instinct. Someone saw potential in your leadership ability. They saw the way you related to others. They noticed the way you support the success of others. Don’t let your natural instincts to champion others become buried by some of the negative lessons you’ve learned from past leaders. Follow your gut and be you—not the micromanaging leader from your past.
  2. Understand you don’t know it all. Just because you have the title, doesn’t mean you’re required to know the answer to every question. It’s not only okay to pause—so you can search for answers—but it actually builds trust with employees. It shows them that you understand you don’t have all the answers, but will advocate for them to find them.
  3. Search for people who know more. You’ve probably read that smart leaders hire people who are smarter than them. That’s true. Leaders are more respected when they lean on employees who might know more about a certain aspect than they do. This is what smart leaders do—they lead brilliance.
  4. Own responsibility. This might possibly be the toughest thing you have to do as leader. Your team is your responsibility. Own that responsibility. Own the mistakes. Own the decision. Again, let employees see that you are looking out for them, and won’t throw them under the bus. If you want your team to succeed, you also need to be willing to take the blame.
  5. Deliver hard news. Tough leaders need to occasionally have tough conversations. And, while some news might be difficult to deliver, the best leaders approach these conversations swiftly, straightforwardly, but with an underlying sense of kindness.   
  6. Seek true competition. Truly tough leaders enjoy healthy competition because it forces them to always be their best, and to never lose sight of constant improvement. And, more than anything else, tough leaders understand that wins are much more rewarding when your competitor truly challenges you.
  7. Ask for pushback. While it might be nice to think everyone will think all your ideas are prolific, tough leaders don’t want to be surrounded by people simply agree with everything. They want team members to have great ideas. They want to surround themselves by people who will intellectually challenge their own ideas.
  8. Confront personal weaknesses.It’s often easy to see the faults in others. It’s a lot more difficult to see our own faults. But, tough leaders want to confront their own weaknesses so they can improve and build strength in all areas.
  9. Challenge their comfort zone. Any time a tough leader realizes they’re in a comfort zone, they force themselves out. They understand that change is necessary. They understand new perception is necessary. And, they understand that ‘comfort’ is just another way of saying ‘stagnancy.’
  10. Give credit and kudos. Being a champion of appreciation might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about tough leadership. However, through our research and interviews with leaders around the globe, we often find it’s one of the most difficult things to do—to become vulnerable to someone else’s greatness, and your own gratitude to have them on your team.

Being ‘tough’ as a leader often comes with a stigma. Nevertheless, that stigma is often wrong. Many times the toughest things to do in life require us to handle some of the, so-called, softest areas—skillsets that deal with the more squishy areas of mankind, our own emotions.

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