3 habits of highly effective leaders

Gary Mogg claims lounging at work in a broken chair led to his injury

Are you a leader? Whether you're an executive or an entry-level employee, leadership is a truly essential skill that can propel you and your career to bigger, better things. That holds true for both leaders of large teams and self-employed people who are guiding a team of one.

I recently spoke to leadership consultant Jennifer Garvey Berger, whose new book, Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders For a Complex World, is already garnering praise from industry executives and academic experts at Microsoft, Fidelity, Harvard University and Boston College. Here are some of her insights on what good leaders do -- and what separates them from the pack.

4 things a manager should never say
How NOT to fire someone: 5 common mistakes

What are three habits a competent leader practices regularly?

The first habit is asking different questions. This is about expanding your curiosity. The second habit is taking multiple perspectives. This habit is about listening well and understanding the perspectives of others. The third habit is looking at systems, and that one reminds us that while the human brain likes to break things down into manageable parts, it is the unwieldy combination of those unmanageable systems that opens us up to new possibilities.

Do even the best leaders make mistakes?

Yes. They'll get mad and make mistakes and hurt people. And sometimes they won't even recognize that they've done that. But the best leaders never stop learning, never become so arrogant or complacent that they stop believing they have room to grow. They never become so hopeless or discouraged that they believe it's not worth the effort. John F. Kennedy wrote that "leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." The good leaders (almost) never forget this.

What else separates great leaders from everyone else?

They create environments where people can be at their biggest. We all have the experience of people who make us smaller and less capable versus those who make us more capable in their presence than we are without them. Good leaders remember that their perspective isn't the only truth, and they welcome entire human beings into the workplace -- inconvenient emotions, vague hunches, thoughtless mistakes and all. When people see us in our messy wholeness, we can spread out and become bigger.

If I want to become more of a leader today, how should I start?

The most important thing? Believe that you can change and begin to look for the ways you might need to by asking for feedback from others. Forgive yourself for your limitations (rather than denying them or beating yourself up about them), and then seek to grow beyond the way you understand the world today.

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.