Everyone can benefit from brushing up his or her skills, even at the top level. After all, great leaders know everyone faces challenges and makes mistakes—even GREAT leaders, themselves.
Sometimes great leaders make the biggest mistakes. So what still makes them a great leader? A great leader works through mistakes, learns from those mistakes, and keeps moving forward!
You can read business books and advice to set up a framework, but YOU need to tailor any information to suit your business and your industry. No one knows how to run your business as well as you do. And yes, knowing what advice to follow is often the hardest part.
Most of us who have made it to the top level in a company know the essential components of leadership (or at least most of them). The challenge is in understanding how to synthesize the information and apply it to your unique situation. Easier said than done, right? Trust me, I know. I’ve been running businesses for over 30 years, and I’ve learned some hard-earned lessons along the way. (Truthfully, I’m still engaged in improving in a number of these areas).
So, here are 8 of the most critical tips for great leadership. Keep ahead of the game by refreshing your leadership skills regularly.
1. Write Great Ideas Down
So, you’ve taken your vacation time over the summer to catch up on your reading list. Now, what are you going to do with that new knowledge?!
I know too many business owners who, after choosing a book for business success and reading it cover to cover, think, “I am SO ready to go. Now!” But did you take the time to write down your business model? What about your business plan? Did you do a SWOT analysis? Did you write down your five-year plan? Have you figured out your chart of accounts, balance sheets, and financial forecast?
Or did you just read the book and now you’re hoarding all those great ideas in your head? Be honest. It’s essential you take the time to write down notes and figure out a plan for applying the great ideas and concepts to your business. You don’t have to use every piece of business advice you come across, but when you find something pertinent, don’t let it fall by the wayside—write it down!
If you don’t have your next steps down in a document to crystallize your thoughts and convey them to your team, you’re risking the success of your business.
2. Think Before You Do
I’m sure you’re thinking, “I always think before I act.” But how many times have you hit a roadblock during a project, only to realize you could have avoided the problem with a little preliminary legwork? Before you begin a new project, or before you work toward that next milestone, set aside a block of thinking time to be sure you’re solving the right problem.
We often underestimate the power of taking time to ponder. Because we’re so focused on getting stuff accomplished, think time can feel like a waste. Don’t make the mistake of brushing it off, though. It’s crucial for you AND your team to have time to do some creative thinking.
There’s no need to sit around, fist to the chin, pondering in solitude like The Thinker—unless that works best for you. Find your think style to stimulate new perspectives, thoughts, and ideas. Draw pictures, design graphs or pie charts, scribble down notes, think out loud by yourself or use a colleague as a sounding board. But don’t forget to set a deadline on your thinking time or you’ll never get started, which brings me to the next point…
3. Get Started, Already!
Sometimes the opposite problem also occurs. Instead of diving in headfirst, maybe you’re stuck in that endless loop of the planning process. Nothing gets accomplished, and your stakeholders, your team members—everyone—are starting to get irritated.
Or you’re getting stuck in a perfection trap. There’s rarely a perfect time to get something done. The truth is, if you’re waiting for the time to “feel” right, you’re probably waiting too long. Most of us need to realize we have to act even if we don’t feel it (we may never feel like it). Sometimes you’ve got to take Nike’s advice and “just do it.”
It’s time to get started. Often, starting with a few baby steps (even if they’re leading you in the wrong direction) will change your team’s inertia and get the ball rolling. Just start!
4. Value Your Leadership
You’re the boss. You’re leading the company. People are looking to management as great leaders and examples. They also depend on you to steer the ship in the right direction.
The decisions you make directly affect the success or failure of your business, so you must trust and value your leadership. To do that, you must understand your responsibilities as a leader, and never take those responsibilities lightly.
It is your responsibility to convey the big picture to your team. It’s your responsibility to provide support for your objectives and statements. It’s also your responsibility to motivate your team to achieve success while providing a workable framework that includes accountability and monitoring. It’s your responsibility to ensure the company is successful so you can continue to provide a stable livelihood for your employees.
5. Hire Smart, Then Delegate
Business owners (especially small business owners and entrepreneurs) often want to have their hands in every pot. I like to call this falling into delegation traps. Because we want to control and manage it all, we fail to hand off the smaller tasks. This over-reach leads to failure because we can’t juggle it all (no one can).
Great leaders know that one of the essential management skills is “learning to delegate.” Hire team members you trust to handle the responsibilities in their job descriptions (slow to hire). Train them properly and set them up for success with the right tools and processes. At the same time, be ready to get rid of those people who don’t perform to the level you require (fast to fire). Sound harsh? Tough luck. You’re the leader. It’s your responsibility to make those tough decisions.
When you try to micromanage, especially when working around a poorly performing team member, YOU become the roadblock. The rest of your team will notice, and morale will suffer. You spend all your time focused on righting a sinking ship. Don’t risk losing the rest of your high-performing team members—your business success depends on your team.
6. Know Your Customers
You must understand your customers. Who are they? What do they want from your company? What is their unique problem, and how are you uniquely positioned to resolve it? Think of this as communication 101: understand your audience.
Why do customers like your company, your services, and your products? Are you listening to feedback and contacting them through the channels and methods they prefer? Regularly reassess the wants and needs of your customer base. When is the last time you met with a customer? What kind of questions did you ask, or were you afraid to ask?
Meeting the wants and needs of your customer base IS the bottom line for business success. Your target market drives ALL company projects on some level. Never lose sight of the most critical driver of your ongoing success: meeting the needs of your clientele.
7. Address the Elephant in the Office
As you know, things can go wrong. Sometimes things can go very, VERY wrong. Some business owners are tempted to pretend everything is fine and dandy when the business is going down the tubes.
As Mr. Fred Rogers said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.” We may feel like we shouldn’t talk about certain situations or address specific topics. Instead of practicing avoidance, it’s time to find solutions. Think about it and then establish goals based on your real problems.
Whether it’s team member morale, an unsatisfied customer, less-than-optimal software, or a cash flow crisis, problems must be addressed full force, immediately, and with determination and resolve. You may think you’re protecting your team by hiding the problem, but they may have the solution or offer a different perspective (besides, chances are, they already know what’s going on). Being a great leader is tough, but you must always continue to embody your values and operate in honesty. Do what you know is right, even when it’s hard.
8. Establish Accountability
The best way to hold team members accountable is to set clear expectations, standardize processes, define metrics for progress, and then follow-up, follow-up, follow-up.
Remember that micro-management isn’t the same as follow-up! Follow-up means that your team has a clear direction and concept of the ultimate goal, adequate training, and explicit knowledge of individual assignments, processes, and deadlines. The team reports on roadblocks, progress, and accomplishments. It means establishing and reviewing daily or weekly objectives and all assigned deadlines. Great leadership includes setting SMART goals and reviewing them regularly.
Accountability is about making your team understand that you care about everyone’s day-to-day performance, but without micro-management. Putting accountability and follow-up processes in place assures everyone is on board, so everything from daily operations to broader strategic initiatives plays out successfully as expected.
Great leadership is possible in any management situation. Keep your skills sharp and communicate with your team. Pay attention to your instincts and keep learning and growing each day.
Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pixabay.