Here are the characteristics of leaders whom people will follow

Years ago while in a traveling sales job that I hated, I stopped at a gas station and used the restroom. Someone, annoyed by the wet floors, had scrawled above the urinal:

We aim to please. You aim too, please.

It was a classic bit of latrinalia that I’d seen a dozen times before. Written beneath that in a different hand was another bit of graffiti:

We rarely hit where we do not aim.

Initially I thought it was simply a variation on a theme, but as I continued my journey the words stuck with me. Somewhere down the road the full impact of its meaning hit me. I realized that I was never going to hit my goal of becoming a successful writer if I stayed in my current job. My aim was about 180 degrees off target. I decided to quit my job and start writing again. It was the first of many course corrections that bit of wisdom helped me make over the years.

The Un-Comfort Zone

Eventually I learned that it was a quote from Henry David Thoreau. His words are also a good reminder for people in leadership roles. Leaders aim. They aim for solid goals that others can rally around. Whether they are in business, non-profit, or politics, leaders have AIM.

AIM is my acronym or mnemonic for the three characteristics of good leaders: Authenticity, Innovation, and Motivation.aim-2-please2

A leader that people will want to follow is authentic. It has been said that “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to want to do what you want done.” That isn’t a problem for authentic leaders for they have a mission. A clear mission that they care about, perhaps are even passionate about. A mission that benefits all who are involved. The authentic leader is able to elucidate, to everyone’s understanding, what the goal is and how to reach it.

Napoleon Bonaparte stated, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” But, hope is vague, an authentic leader will have a specific vision and goal around which people will gather and follow direction. Theodore M. Hesburgh, President Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, may have said it best, “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

Authentic leaders do not seek that role for the power or the perquisites of the position. They earn their authority with charisma, management skills, and sharing the means for achieving the goal. As John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Authentic leaders believe in themselves and that the goal is attainable. People can sense authenticity and willingly follow the leader who has it.

A good leader is also an innovator. The innovative leader is able to overcome obstacles and solve problems as they arise. Innovative leaders are open minded to new avenues of reaching their goals. They don’t believe there is only one right answer.

An innovative leader is willing to take risks, bend or break the rules as necessary. In the lexicon of the day – they think outside the box. The innovative leader is not afraid of failure, and creates a culture that encourages others to come up with new ideas for reaching the goal. As General George Patton once said, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

When things aren’t going well, the innovative leader is willing to view the issue from a different perspective, and seek out alternate paths for achieving the goal. They revise their plans as their knowledge and experience grows. They recognize opportunities that may deviate from the plan, but still make progress toward the goal.

Finally a good leader is a motivator. He motivates himself and then others. He leads by example – his enthusiasm is infectious. Mahatma Gandhi understood this when he said, “We must become the change we want to see.”

The motivational leader has empathy for the individual members of the group and cares about their personal needs and desires. This leader learns what his people are interested in or passionate about and ties those to the group goals. Motivational leaders do not use fear to motivate – even though they know it is a powerful motivator – instead they encourage by being generous with praise. They publicly acknowledge and reward achievement; and never take credit that is not their own.

This leader is cool under pressure and sets reasonable deadlines for his followers to meet. Motivational leaders stay focused on the goal; create a plan to acquire it; and work the plan persistently with adequate time, attention and energy. Motivational leaders visualize the goal coming to fruition; and share that vision with their people.

Motivational leaders create a pleasant environment and fun atmosphere to work in. They encourage learning because they know that knowledge is power and the more you know the more persuasive you can be. Finally the motivational leaders are willing to share their expertise without fearing that someone will use that knowledge to take their job.

Leaders AIM to please. You AIM too, please.

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an author, humorist-speaker and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Robert is the author of the inspirational book: Wisdom in the Weirdest Places. Robert is also the author of the humorous children’s book: The Annoying Ghost Kid. For more information on Robert, please visit