If only there was a one size fits all approach, or quick-fix route to becoming an excellent leader. It’s the part of any leader’s role which will guarantee near constant challenge and requires nothing less than 100%.
Through my own experience and from working with many talented business heads over the years, here are six very top line pointers to becoming an inspiring leader:
1. No two employees are the same
The text books will give you a list of management styles, but there is being a manager and there is being a leader. Leaders inspire, challenge and drive performance through empowerment. Whether you have a team of 5 or 500, the first thing you must recognise is each and every one of those employees are individuals with different values, drivers, strengths and weaknesses. And that includes you by the way: the first step to being a great leader is to recognise that you are not perfect and you probably don’t know it all.
Once you have accepted that all parties involved are unique you can crucially start to understand each person better. Great leaders care about the whole person, not just the employee. They spend time understanding how to get the best from them and how to be the best for them. This includes self analysing themselves, which is why many leaders have a coach or a mentor to help them develop and grow as leaders. Showing your team you are striving to a better version of you has to surely be the best to lead by example.
2. Promote worth and recognition
Being a leader it’s probably very obvious to you how each employee contributes to the business, but is it obvious to them? Especially at the more junior end of the scale, they might feel they are just “doing a job” and might be shielded from the bigger picture and more front line strategic work.
Tying in with the previous point around understanding the individual, it is important for everyone to understand their worth in the company and that, even at a very junior role, they are a valuable cog in the machine. This isn’t an empty ego massage but the truth: if they had no purpose the role wouldn’t exist, so spend time making sure everyone understands what positive impact they can have on the wider business when they deliver top performance, from the Receptionist to your top Executive.
In turn, don’t be afraid to recognise good performance. No need to over praise, but if you notice someone has been getting in a bit earlier, or bringing more energy to the room, tell them. Maybe try and see if together you can identify what’s created this surge of performance so you can help them recreate it consistently.
Just as much as you’d pull someone aside for being late a few times, or for being distracted from the job at hand, you can’t take great effort for granted. It will be noticed.
3. Positive Mental Attitude (PMA)
A nervous flyer often uses the air hostess as a mood guide through turbulence. After all they are the experienced flyers so if they look calm, then there is probably nothing to worry about. If they are clinging on for dear life, then perhaps it’s time to panic.
As a leader it is your job and responsibility to manage your own emotions. Your emotions are one of the biggest influencers of employee motivation. Being a leader probably means you are dealing with so much more than your team realises and it can be difficult to be empathetic to their problems and challenges when, in the back of your mind, you know what fires you’re fighting. A great leader has to do their best to show focus, clam and direction, both when things are good, and in moments of crisis. You are the air hostess: if you panic everyone will panic, and then it’s just chaos.
That’s not to say that you should be blind to problems and see everything through rose tinted glasses, rather that your delivery needs to be balanced and controlled.
But, going back to point number one, you are only human and stress and self-doubt are going to creep into your daily life too. This is why a good support network of fellow leaders, a coach, or even friends and family are the correct outlets for heightened emotions and to regain perspective.
4. Paving the way
As leaders you probably have a long term vision (if you don’t, you should probably look into that, although that’s the subject of another blog). Make sure this vision is communicated to everyone and then break it down into smaller chunks. You might be working to a 5-year plan, but if people are not sat in your seat, it’s hard to see progress, or for individuals to see how they are helping the business achieve their goals (back to point no.2).
Everyone likes to see that a company has ambition and long term goals, but to help the team stay focussed and motivated, it is important to understand shorter term targets and evolution. This could be weekly sales performance reports, combined with quarterly company performance, news and changes, followed by an end of year look back and look forward.
These meetings don’t all need to be endless slides of corporate reports; they could actually involve the whole team. Invite your employees to present their findings this month/quarter. Let them share amongst their colleagues what their department has achieved and their recommendations moving forward; you’ll be surprised how many great ideas are right in front of you in your employee’s heads. This allows you to collate all the information and present back an overall clear strategy that the team understand and are engaged with, as they contributed to it.
5. Be human
Being a Manager/Boss/Leader does mean having to step away from the general office chatter, having to make those tough calls and having those difficult conversations with individuals. And to be able to this effectively, there must a management line.
That doesn’t mean you should sit there in your ivory tower, or be distant. You are still part of a team and another key attribute to being a great leader is showing that you’re human. Yes you have a million things to do, but you can always find time to stop and have a chat with people, check in and make sure they are ok, see how Debbie’s wedding plans are going, or how Chris’s marathon training is coming along. And if it’s been a good week, can it hurt to buy everyone a drink?
These are the people you see more than your friends and family, get to understand them and, when appropriate, take time to encourage a social side to work. Not only will they enjoy work more, you’ll probably find you will too. Our brain is wired to think about relationships, so create bonds and solidarity for everyone to enjoy.
6. Accept you’ll get it wrong
You will. With how wonderfully individual and complex people can be, combined with trying to manage yourself and your own challenges, you won’t always get it right. It’s ok, as long as you are always showing that you genuinely have the best intentions in mind. Just take time to reflect and be honest, admit error, try a different approach and work at it. Don’t beat yourself up, just challenge yourself.
Ernest Hemingway once said “there is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self”.