The first thing you’ve got to let go in order to be a great leader is the stereotype in your head. Good leaders come in every shape and size. Some are indeed smartly dressed, tall and authoritative. Others, however, might be short, introverted or less domineering in their approach.
Leaders come in every shape and form. Trying to fit yourself into the stereotypical role might end up selling you short, as you actually hide away your best skills and try to do things in a way that doesn’t suit you.
That said, there are some aspects of leadership that are still vital. With them, you’ll be a better leader. Without them, you’ll struggle to inspire a three-year-old.
You have to trust the people who work for you to do a good job. If you can’t do that, you’re likely to micromanage. And that is possibly one of the most energy sapping activities a boss can undertake. You’ve got to give your team members or your employees a chance to do things on their own. Only afterwards can you offer criticism and suggestions.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you give them the keys to the safe. An Arab proverb I love goes, trust in god, but tie down your camel. If an employee hasn’t yet proven themselves, of course you’re justified in checking in on them if they’re engaged in an important assignment. Just make sure that you’re only checking in and not telling them what to do.
Get them to trust you
Equally, you’ve got to make sure you’re seen as trustworthy. There are lot of ways that you can make people trust you, but probably one of the most effective is to show that you’re interested in them and care about them.
In a lot of businesses, the project comes before the people. Often that’s not a very effective way of doing things. If the people come first, then they’ll be willing to put in the effort and the energy to make sure the project gets completed on time and gets completed well.
You can see your team as your tools. You want them to be in the best shape they can be. After all, a blunt knife doesn’t cut a tomato. Treating them as humans is (paradoxically, considering the example I’m using) the best way to make sure they’re going to be in the best shape they can be.
Not good at the empathy thing? Find other ways to build trust between them and you.
Deal with problems and challenges
It is a leader’s responsibility to accept the challenges that come their way and deal with them. If a leader can’t do that, and they duck their responsibilities, the rest of the team will be forced to worry about things that aren’t their responsibility or in their field of expertise.
It isn’t just about dealing with problems and challenges. It’s about letting your team know that you’re dealing with them. Sometimes, if they believe that you’re not doing anything (even when you are) that can be just as destructive for morale.
Communicate clearly, say that you’re dealing with the problems, and follow up your words with actions. That last point is vital, for if you say you’re dealing with something when you’re not, then the people will very quickly stop believing you. And that’s a horrible situation to be in.
Just because you’re a leader doesn’t mean you can’t be a student as well. In fact, it’s much better if you can keep learning. After all, the world is changing rapidly right now, and if you’re not learning what the new opportunities are and what’s going on, you’re going to end up falling behind.
You won’t be able to take advantage of the new opportunities that come your way and you won’t be able to see the pitfalls that are out there if you don’t stay curious.
Take courses in your free time, get academic help, read books about new topics. Ask people working for you to explain what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. If they’re not too busy, they’ll appreciate the interest and you’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on beneath the hood of your company.
Sometimes we think we have to be something we’re not. The problem is, people notice when you’re being fake. And when that happens, they’ll think that you’re hiding something, that you’re not being honest about other things either.
Don’t try to be something you’re not. Instead, embrace who you are. I know it’s hard, but ultimately if you’re straightforward and honest, your employees will be as well. You see, you’re responsible for creating the environment in which people interact with each other. So make it an honest one.
Protect those below you
As a leader, you’ve got to be able to take the blame when things go wrong – even if it wasn’t necessarily your fault. Only in this way can you make sure that your employees feel they’ve got the space to experiment and try new things.
To protect your employees doesn’t just mean taking responsibility, either. It also means that you’re able to cover for your staff. Maybe the people higher up have come up with yet another hairball scheme that they want your team to execute.
In that case, you need to find ways to cover your staff and make certain that they don’t end up having to waste time on something that they don’t really have time for.
You are the gatekeeper between those above and those below. If you do that role successfully, then the people who work for you will be in a position to focus on what they’re supposed to be doing without distraction. If you don’t, then they’ll find themselves swept up, distracted and unhappy.
Despite all of their styles, there are really two kinds of leaders. There are those who manage to make the people that are working for them become more than their parts together. And there are those who don’t. To be the former kind of leader means creating trust, respect and an environment where the people who are working for you can get on with the task that they’re supposed to without distraction.
For your team to fall apart and not be the best they can be, only one of the dimensions that I’ve mentioned needs to be out of place. That happens quickly. It takes people feeling they can’t say what they’ve got to. It means employees believe that you’re not honest, or won’t protect them, or feel they’ve got to watch their own backs because you’re not doing it for them.
When that happens it’s hard to go back. Fortunately, it’s not impossible. Find out what the knell point is and deal with it. If you can do that, then you’ll be on the road to once again inspiring them. If you can’t? Then chances are people will start moving on. For people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses.