5 Habits of Successful Leaders

March 29, 2018
Eric Postal, MD

How to demonstrate to others that you are worthy of their trust and confidence.

In my past couple of columns, I discussed how I balanced launching a business-venture against the necessities of making a living with my current career, and how I went about identifying partners who might help make this thing actually float.

I’d also mentioned that, at least as important as it was for me to figure out who’d be worthwhile allies for this project, I needed to demonstrate to them that I was someone worthy of their trust and confidence.

This is not something accomplished over the short term. Unlike, say, interviewing for a job, where impressions are made in a matter of hours and judgments invariably include a leap of faith. If you’re fortunate enough to be dealing with people you’ve known for years, they’ll have gotten a good look at your long-term track record.

(For readers whose backgrounds are less than complementary for this purpose, it might be comforting to remember that one can change one’s ways. Today is, after all, the first day of the rest of your life.)

Some habits I had developed that served me well in this regard, and I strove to practice while launching this venture were:

Be available. When the phone rings, your instant-message app chimes, or your attention is otherwise desired by someone relevant to your business, respond unless you’ve got a compelling reason not to. Even if it’s inconvenient. You don’t want anybody to get the idea that you’re overextended, unenthusiastic, putting them on the back burner, or unreachable.

Be versatile. Especially while your venture is small and there aren’t a bunch of people for delegation of responsibilities. It might turn out to be the case that your best contribution to the project isn’t even what you (or others) would consider your greatest strength. In my venture, for instance, I’d rank my capability with the written word far, far ahead of my knowhow as a radiologist, or indeed a physician. Also, if you aren’t the absolute head honcho of your venture, demonstrating that you’ve got multiple facets of value to the operation diminishes the chances that, at some point, you might get cut from the lineup.

Don’t be too versatile, though. By this I mean to avoid the temptation of taking on too much. Not just because you only have so many hours in your day, but also because the other folks on your team have contributions to make. Chances are that there are areas where their skills and experience are superior to yours. You also don’t want to come across as being too controlling/intrusive/micromanaging. You’re working with these people for a reason; let them do their thing, just as they’re (hopefully) letting you do yours. There will be plenty of opportunities to communicate and advise one another along the way if you have differences of opinion about how things should be done.

Find the right balance between enthusiasm and acceptance. You’re surely heard lip-service given to how important it is to be passionate about one’s business. By all means, be excited about this new prospect you’ve got; if you aren’t, you’re probably not going to inspire others to feel the same way about it. Such an attitude will also motivate you to put in the time and effort for the venture so it has its best chance. That said, success is not guaranteed, and if you’re too gung-ho, you might not recognize signs that a given tactic (or, indeed, the whole ball of wax) isn’t really producing results-signs that might have allowed you to change your approach or otherwise redirect efforts and resources. A certain measure of emotional distance will help you remain objective…and cushion the emotional blow if things don’t turn out the way you’d hoped.

Keep learning. From the moment you get started with your new venture, you’re going to be discovering all sorts of things you didn’t know before-about your chosen field, about your partners, and about your prospective clients. The more committed you are to assimilating this information, the better you’ll adapt to it-if not in time to succeed with a given situation or client, then at least the next go-round. Even if the entire venture doesn’t fly, it will (hopefully) have taught you a huge amount. Such a “failure” might well turn out to be the cornerstone of your next project’s success.