When you look at some people, you think, “They must have been born a leader; they’re so captivating, talented, and intuitive. They just get it.” And certainly, the Martin Luther Kings, the Obamas, the LeBrons, the Steve Jobs, the Mary Barras of the world do seem to have that ineffable, and compelling, quality to them.
But guess what? They weren’t born with it. Leadership – effective leadership – may come easier to some than to others, but like walking, running, public speaking, and shooting 3s, it is a skill that can be developed and improved. Continually.
What Is Leadership?
Warren Bennis, the godfather of leadership studies, once said, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
While we can find any number of definitions, let’s go with this one! So, if it is the capacity to turn a vision, an idea, a goal into a real result… The how is up to you. There is no prescribed way to be an effective leader. No one “right” leadership style, no single “must-have” personality trait. There is just you – and in addition to the capacity to translate vision into reality, you must also possess the capacity to adapt.
This is perhaps the most critical skill a leader can develop: it empowers you to be the leader your people, and your company, need today – as well as the leader they will need tomorrow as your organization grows, stretches, and evolves. Remember, leadership isn’t a “I’m there. I’ve reached my destination” situation. It’s a “I’m always putting one foot in front of the other, learning how to become a better leader” mindset.
With that said… How do you do it!
5 Steps Towards Being a Better Leader
According to a study by the Center for Creative Leadership, about 38% to over 50% of new leaders fail within their first 18 months on the job. Not a bright, shining statistic – but there is a silver lining. While success is not inevitable, neither is failure. It’s a process. Start with these fundamentals of leadership:
1. Communicate – Often and Always!
If you walk away with nothing else, take this with you: Communicate, openly, transparently, and frequently with your team. You are setting the tone here, and it conveys the message that you value honesty, integrity, and ethical behavior and sets the expectation that your people follow your lead on this.
Chances are you talk to people how you prefer to be talked to. Ok. But you need to take the next steps. Communicate with them in a way that ensures that they are engaged and receiving your message with clarity. Take the time to learn about the communication styles of individuals and determine how best you can impart information, critiques, praise, etc. Great leaders don’t always have the mic, so to speak; they are also great listeners.
2. Be a Champion for Your People
You want the best from your team members? Sure. But great leaders also want the best for them.
Encourage your people to pursue professional and personal growth goals, and then put your money where your mouth is. This could be earmarking budget dollars (even modestly) for education and training, using flexible scheduling so they have time to learn or volunteer, providing opportunities for them to take on different challenges within the company, giving them more freedom and agency when it comes to their daily work, or pairing them with a mentor or coach. When people are empowered, they tend to respond with boosted production, engagement, morale, and output.
3. Establish Clear and Consistent Expectations and Goals
Imagine putting a puzzle together without any idea of what the picture is supposed to look like. This is akin to going to work and not having any idea of what you’re supposed to be doing, of what your job
looks like. Success depends on setting clear objectives and tangible ways to measure progress. It’s easy to think of leaders giving fiery, inspiring speeches or winning over a room… Really, though, effective leaders know that the nuts and bolts matter.
What do you want your team to do? What do you expect of them? How do you – and they – know they are being successful? Tell them. Make. It. Clear.
4. Feedback Is Your (Best) Friend
While leaders fall along a wild spectrum, great ones don’t bury their heads in the sand. They face reality, head on and with a growth mindset. This isn’t going well? Let’s fix it. This could be better? Let’s improve. Feedback is critical for this leader – and it’s a two-way street.
Provide constructive, affirming, and action-oriented feedback and reviews to your employee. Acknowledge their efforts, celebrate their big wins, gently and positively deliver critiques, suggestions, or course corrections… and be specific. “Hey, good job!” isn’t going to cut it. Nor is, “Well, do better next time.” What went well? What didn’t? What resources can you provide? What support can you ensure they access?
Now, the other side of the street. Accept feedback. Not only that, encourage it. We hate to break it to you, but you’re not perfect. A true, honest assessment can help you elevate your effectiveness and give you new insights into your performance. For this to work, you need to forge and maintain strong, trusting relationships that ensure people feel safe in giving their insights and opinions.
When was the last time you said “Hi” to an employee in the hallway, break room, parking lot, or at the coffee pot and asked about their day. Their work. Their new project. That difficult client. Their family. The game they went to or the course they’re taking. “Small” talk can lead to big connections and results. When you approach interactions with positivity, compassion, empathy, and genuine interest, it fosters a sense of trust and cohesion that is invaluable.
The Secret to Leadership Success?
The secret is that there is no secret. You can become a better leader, a fantastic leader, and more importantly, the leader your people and organization need. It takes conscious effort and a capacity to adapt, learn, grow, and connect. You weren’t “born with it”? So what? You can become it.
Move further on your journey. Connect with Home Artisans of Indiana. We build better businesses – and leaders – together.