By Will Karbach, CEO, The Branch Group

At the Branch Group, we ask all of our employee owners to be exceptional leaders. Be strong, decisive, ethical, and help grow our family of companies. To us, leadership is about much more than a job title or tenure. Donald H. McGannon, former chairman of Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, said it best, “Leadership is an action, not a position.”

As we celebrate a new year, I encourage you to leave your comfort zone, be a change agent, and put time into your personal and professional growth.

You may have heard “leaders are born, not made,” but I’m thinking that’s not a thing. Here are my five thoughts about being a better leader in 2020.

1. Have the attitude of a leader


“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” – John Maxwell

Everyone has bad days, but consistently having a negative attitude can bring down your team. If you’re not excited about and proud of the work you’re doing, why should they be? I’m not saying you need to walk down the hall grinning from ear to ear and high-fiving everyone, but remember that people watch their leaders. Be aware of your body language and try to use positive words, even in challenging situations. Your energy is contagious, so lead by example.

2. Change is inevitable, and it’s time to embrace it


“Continuity gives us roots; change gives us branches, letting us stretch and grow and reach new heights.” – Pauline R. Kezer

If your answer to every “Why?” is “That’s how we’ve always done it,” it’s time to rethink your approach. Sure your way works, but the people on your team are there for a reason, so trust them. Great leaders accept the need for change and embrace others’ ideas. If you keep saying “No” to new ideas, eventually your team will stop sharing them. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

3. Communication is key


“Communication is not a two-way street. It is a bridge. Either you have one, or you build one. It’s about connecting, not correcting.” – Farshad Asl

Strong communication skills are a must for any leader. When you’re talking to a member of your team, adapt to their communication style, keep your message clear and straightforward, and be accountable for your words. Don’t promise something you can’t deliver. It’s also important to remember that active listening is the key to effective communication. You need to put down your phone and be present, provide feedback without interrupting, and put yourself in their shoes. Active listening shows your team that you care and can help build relationships, avoid misunderstandings, resolve conflict, and improve productivity.

4. You have to have courage


“Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you’re scared to death.” – Earl Wilson

I’m not talking about the jump out of a plane kind of courage. I’m talking about the courage to think differently, make bold decisions, have difficult conversations, face critics, and get back up after being knocked down. The moment you start to second guess yourself, your credibility will weaken. A leader isn’t born with courage, though. You have to develop it by facing your fears. It’s also important to instill courage in your team. Tell them it’s OK to make mistakes, provide a safety net, and celebrate their successes.

5. Be an authentic leader


“Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet — thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing — consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.” – Lance Secretan

Authentic leaders are self-aware, genuine, compassionate, and transparent. People are good at spotting fake. If your team thinks you’re not acting like your true self, they aren’t going to be loyal to you. Let your company’s mission and needs guide you, and your actions need to reflect the same behaviors that you expect from your team. Authentic leaders inspire trust and confidence and have the ability to influence those around them.