Leadership: It's More than Just Showing the Way
Leadership is a challenge. It’s a nuanced form of work combining management, business logistics, psychology, and many other fields. It isn’t simple and it isn’t easy, but with the right strategies, it is possible to achieve great things as a leader.
People are drawn to leadership because they want to make a difference in the world. Emboldened by the mythos of great leaders like Steve Jobs (News - Alert) or Nelson Mandela, they seek to scale their ambitions by building a team to achieve difficult goals. The question for these people isn’t whether or not to lead, it’s how to lead.
This article will discuss the nature of effective leadership. It’s more than just showing the way. Leadership is about trust, vision, and leading by example. It’s about knowing your team and treating them well without losing sight of the big picture. Successful leadership feels good and drives results.
Trust Your Team
Trust is the foundation of effective leadership. The more you are able to trust your team, the freer you will be to focus on your own job. Trusting your team means experiencing less anxiety about the tasks you assign to them. It saves you from having to look over their shoulder.
For example, imagine that a manager assigns two employees to organize a messy storage area in a company warehouse. If that manager does not trust her employees, she may have to check up on them every twenty minutes to make sure work is getting done. By the end of the day, that manager has spent hours just worrying and checking on things. If she could trust her employees to get the work done, it would free her up to focus on other tasks.
Here are a few ways to start building trust with your team:
- Offer flexible work hours
- Loosen up the dress code
- Ask your team for feedback on company policies
Some employees may not prove to be trustworthy. It is foolish to repeatedly try and establish trust with a person who insists on abusing it. If a person is repeatedly dishonest, it is best to remove them from your team as soon as possible.
Share Your Vision
One important aspect of leadership is uniting a team behind a shared vision. This is easier said than done. Most teams will be diverse, with each person holding different views and goals for the future. If a vision is going to infect an entire team, it must be simple and easy to understand.
If a vision is summarized into three or four words, Guy Kawasaki style, it is very easy to understand. For example, there are many instructional design companies in the world. A perfect vision summary for such a company could be “Educating Future Designers”. Or a shoe company with very durable products could use “Shoes That Last Forever”.
Leaders should not expect their team to read and comprehend a ten page manifesto or company handbook. That stuff is useful for tactical issues, but not for vision. Leaders who simplify their vision into a clear message will unite their teams behind a common goal.
Lead By Example
A great leader lives by his own rules. Even if he has the power to act however he wants, he chooses to follow the team mindset. When a team knows that their leader is a part of the group, they become much more motivated to work. By participating in company training with the team, the leaders will be able to humble themselves and show that they can learn from others as well, which in turn will cause the team to trust and look towards the leader.
There is a right and wrong way to do this. People in leadership positions have unique responsibilities that require them to act differently than their employees. The key here is to find a balance. If a leader needs to travel around the country to make deals, they can’t join the team in the office forty hours a week.
A leader in that position might videoconference the team once a week to share what they’ve been working on. The message would be “I’m not in the office, but I put in forty hours of work this week too.” It’s a simple way to show humility and team spirit.
Here are some other ways to lead by example:
- Follow the same dress code as your employees
- Show up early when possible
- Eat lunch with your team
Leading effectively is about uniting a team behind a common vision while keeping morale high. This starts with clarifying the team’s vision into a simple three word statement. It continues through the principles of trust and leading by example. Leadership isn’t easy, but it matters. A team with strong leadership will always outperform the competition.
Edited by Alicia Young