10 Tiny Habits Of The World's Best Leaders

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Woman leading her team

If you search Google for the world’s most prominent leaders, you may get some variation of the list ranking from Fortune. Some names may be unknown to you and some may be stunningly familiar. I personally never expected to see Lebron James's name listed anywhere other than a list of successful basketball players, but there he is, number eleven on Fortune’s “50 World’s Greatest Leaders.”

The point becomes clear as you scan the list and see the diversity of names and professions present there. It doesn’t matter so much what you do or your ranking, but how your presence has affected change. No matter how you feel about the people on this list, each of them shares certain qualities that make them game-changers.

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Here are 10 tiny habits of the world's best leaders:

1. Be compassionate

“When we create the right kind of identity, we can say things to the world around us that they don't believe makes sense. We can get them to do things that they don't think they can do.” Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. The EJI won a historic ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court holding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. He gave a TED Talk called, “We Need to Talk About an Injustice.” He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant. He gives motivational speeches about the power of identity and compassion. His leadership is about being open and conscious of the world’s history.



2. Be decisive

“We need trust among allies and partners. Trust now has to be built anew.” Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel is the former chancellor of Germany and was often considered the de facto leader of Europe. She has also been nicknamed “the decider.” She survived Europe’s financial crisis and played a leading role in fending off the recession in Germany. She has thrown her weight behind historical decisions such as saving the euro, energy reform, parent benefit (also known as “Elterngeld”), and abolishing conscription (reducing military size).

To lead, one must be confident in their ability. While it is important to be level-headed and consider multiple possibilities in a conflict, true action needs a lead foot to be put in the world. If you’re ever in a situation where you find yourself overwhelmed with possible decisions, take the lead as Merkel would. 

3. Be versatile

"What I’ve learned, in over a decade spent talking with and listening to thousands of people who disagree with me on climate, is that far more connects us than divides us.” – Dr. Katharine Hayhoe

Dr. Hayhoe has been speaking about climate change for years. The platform she uses varies from her book, Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions, to her PBS web series Global Weirding. She is also an evangelical Christian living in Texas. Lately, the divide between science and religion has been so polarized that it’s difficult to believe someone is capable of being both a scientist and a religious person.

Dr. Hayhoe serves to prove that the two are not mutually exclusive. A leader should be able to emulate her and perform multiple roles in the workplace. For example, one important role a boss performs involves disciplinary action. You must maintain a respectable and professional persona that is capable of shooting down inappropriate behavior. But remember that this is not all that is required of a boss. You should be relatable, sympathetic, and realistic. Surprise people!

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4. Be innovative

“Help young people. Help small guys. Because small guys will be big. Young people will have the seeds you bury in their minds, and when they grow up, they will change the world.” Jack Ma

Jack Ma is a former English teacher and co-creator of Alibaba Group, China’s biggest e-commerce company, which rose to 23 billion in revenue in March. While you don’t have to create a multi-billion-dollar company to be considered a successful leader, you must be able to generate creative solutions to problems in your field of expertise. Be willing to invest in people who can strengthen your ability to lead.

5. Be a conciliator

"It slightly worries me that when people find a problem, they rush to judgment of what to do." — Janet Yellen

Janet Yellen is credited with producing America’s current economy, which is considerably strong compared to how it was a couple of years ago. She has a reputation as a strong conciliator, or as a person who acts as a mediator between two groups. This is a strong leadership ability that is often overlooked. It’s important to be able to see two opposite-led people and be able to strike up a productive conversation between them. 

6. Persevere

“Peace and solidarity in Europe is not a law of nature. It requires care, effort, and perseverance” Helle Thorning Schmidt

Helle Thorning Schmidt is CEO of Save the Children International. Helle oversees humanitarian and development programs that reach 55 million children in around 120 countries. Before her involvement with Save the Children, she was a Danish politician and public servant. If anything can be gleaned from her long resume as a leader, whether as CEO or Danish prime minister, it is her stamina for the cause. She has spent most of her life seeking out a beneficial and influential way to help her people. Any leader should be ready for the long haul — to attack issues with consistency and energy — and realize that, sometimes, the best tool a person can use is time and persistence. 

7. Educator

"I am a teacher. It's how I define myself. A good teacher isn't someone who gives the answers out to their kids but is understanding of needs and challenges and gives tools to help other people succeed. That's the way I see myself, so whatever it is that I will do eventually after politics, it'll have to do a lot with teaching." — Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau is Canada’s twenty-third prime minister. He also serves as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister of Youth. Trudeau envisions Canada as an equal-opportunity country and his experiences as a teacher, father, leader, and advocate have shaped his ideals. It is an interesting take to view his leadership role as prime minister through the lens of an educator.

An educator draws from interdisciplinary skills, recognizing multiple learning styles and personality types, to help as many people as possible. Nearly everything can be made into a learning opportunity. The next time you see someone who approaches their work differently from you, watch them, learn from them, and see if there is value in changing your technique. 



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8. Be a boundary pusher

"I know how to measure the boundary lines. We go up to the line — and we might even push it. But we never cross it." —  Hu Shuli

Hu Shuli is the founding editor of the bi-weekly muckraking magazine Caijing. While some journalists are being silenced or imprisoned, she has continued to work tirelessly to push the boundaries of censorship in China. For example, when a serious environmental hazard takes place, such as an earthquake, it is hazardous for journalists to report the death tolls.

News can be repressed for multiple years — yet Shuli regularly pushes out such reports in her magazine. Known for her investigative journalism, she was once described by Chinese and foreign press as “the most dangerous woman in China.” Her strong will to press the boundaries on censorship rules has allowed news outlets to inform the people. She knows how to toe the line while keeping her staff safe. Any leader needs to know the rules and why they’re being enforced so that you can lead in the most informative manner. 

9. Be a good communicator

“If you don't understand, ask questions. If you're uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It's easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here's to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.” — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian author of novels, short stories, and nonfiction. Her work has been translated into over thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, the Financial Times, and Zoetrope.

She is the author of the novel Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. She has led a TED Talk called, “The Danger of a Single Story” In this presentation, she presents her ideas through anecdote, confession, and images. While the audience may not be able to understand her experience as a Nigerian woman, they can understand and learn from her perspective. 

10. Be flexible

“You must always examine what’s working, evolve your ideas, and change the way you do things.” — Marc Benioff

Marc Benioff is an American internet entrepreneur, author and philanthropist. He is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Salesforce, an enterprise cloud computing company. His models for Salesforce have changed since its inception over a decade ago — what he calls “The cloud, the subscription business model, and our 1-1-1 model.”

To remain successful, a leader must recognize that methods that worked in the past will not always work in the future. The obstacles a company faces always shift, and so its leader should always be changing, too. 

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Coach Monique DeMonaco is a Life and Leadership Coach and author of the book Most People Don't Need a Therapist, They Just Need a Change.