The 5 Habits of Effective Online Leaders

How to influence your virtual audience.

Five Habits of Online Leaders

A very successful mentor once gave me a simple test to determine if I was a leader. He said, “If you want to know if you’re a leader, just look and see if you have any followers.

Sounds pretty simple right? Look to see if you have anyone following in your footsteps.

As a former professional athlete I’ve seen the power of leadership. I’ve seen coaches and athletes inspire others by standing up and taking risks despite overwhelming odds. And I’ve learned that the same principles that lead teams to victory on the field also work in the marketplace.

While playing in the Arena Football League, I suffered a career-ending injury. I was left with two options: to spend my days wondering what my career could have been if I didn’t get injured, or to create a new life.

I chose to create a new life. Not only did I find a new passion in entrepreneurship, but I also created a seven-figure business in teaching entrepreneurs how to use platforms, such as LinkedIn and webinars, to become leaders in their own industries.

The principles of leadership will never change. Vision, discipline, courage and commitment are as relevant today as they were when people used swords to fight wars. Leadership is still leadership.

Here are five habits to practice if you want to be an online leader.

1 - Do great things. Leaders do not focus on maintaining the status quo. They focus on using their vision and courage to do great things.

It takes big plays to win a football game, and it takes bold moves to advance a business in a competitive marketplace. I don’t know anyone who achieves worthwhile success by
playing it safe.

So take risks—even if that means you’ll make some mistakes along the way. Each mistake brings with it a valuable lesson that will make you stronger. Stop waiting for someone to give you permission to be bold, and act on that idea that’s been on your “I’ll do this one day” list.

Remember, the digital world is hungry for “share-worthy” stories, and not everyone is willing to do something worth talking about. Develop a reputation for taking action in untested waters. That’s how you pull ahead of your competition and build a strong online following.

2 - Develop a reputation for over-delivery. Besides having followers, the most important online currency for any leader is his or her reputation. When you have a reputation for over-delivery, it means your online visitors, subscribers or clients constantly feel they’re the ones getting the better end of the deal.

Therefore, you must be committed to producing quality content and be willing to give away more than what you get in return. And in order to produce quality content, you must first understand your target market and identify what it is that your audience finds valuable. How else can you over-deliver value if you don’t know what it is in the first place? Too many entrepreneurs fail to understand their audience and look to their own opinions to create “value.

Give people more of what they want and expect. Once you do this, you will get a much larger return on your investment in marketing since people will want to spend more money on your offerings. They will also refer their friends to your site. 

3 - Connect offline. So you may be thinking, Lewis, I thought this article is about online leadership—how can offline connections help me grow an online reputation as a leader?

Here’s the deal: Nothing will replace the power of live interaction. Not Facebook, not Twitter, not even video chat, which I love. That’s right, the most powerful connections are made through good old-fashioned hand-shaking, sharing coffee and meeting for lunch. Connections made in these ways produce the most opportunities.

My decision to connect with as many people as possible is how I was able to build a profitable business so quickly. I knew I needed to connect with other industry leaders —not just through emails, but also through face-to-face meetings—if I wanted to be an industry leader.

4 - Promote others. Leaders understand there’s more than enough success and praise to go around. So if you see someone doing something great, let other people know about it. Not only will your words make a big impact on the person you’re praising, but such actions boost your own image as someone who supports the endeavors of others.

But there’s a catch: Be specific and unique in your support. Don’t just retweet an article link or write “Check this out” on your Facebook wall. Tell your followers why they should pay attention to someone you recommend. It shows that you are paying attention to the person you are promoting, and it demonstrates how you respect the time of your followers.

5 - Share your vision. One of the primary responsibilities of a leader is to share your vision. I’m sure there are things you’re noticing today that will affect your way of doing business tomorrow. But they won’t just affect you—they’ll affect others too. As a leader it’s your job to either warn your followers of any danger or highlight the opportunities.

And finally, I will leave you with one last piece of advice: Surround yourself with quality people.

As previously mentioned, there are some principles that never change. This is one of them: Who you choose to spend your time with (even in private) has a huge effect on who you are and how effective you are as a leader. Leaders can’t afford to rub shoulders with people who aren’t growing.

Follow these practical steps, and you’ll soon be an online leader.

*Create these habits for the leaders in your company by starting a Toastmasters club today.

About the Author

Lewis Howes, CC

Lewis Howes, CC, Lewis Howes, CC, is an entrepreneur and a member of the U.S. Men’s National Team for handball.