When you think of the good leaders you’ve worked with over the years — whether they were team leaders or teachers, bosses you worked closely with or CEOs you never spoke to in person — they share many of the same traits. To be an effective leader, you don’t have to be a tyrant and you don’t have to be everyone’s best buddy. What you have to be is … effective. So how do you become a good leader?
Before doing anything else, sit down and clearly define the project goals. There’s a saying that goes: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. In other words, if you don’t know what the project is, when it needs to be done, who you need to involve, where you have to be at specific points in the project, and why it’s important to be on top of any number of projects, how do you expect to succeed? Set very specific, detailed goals. They don’t have to be written in stone, but they do have to exist. You can modify them as you move along in the process.
Delegate duties by giving others the responsibility to get things done, and the authority to make things happen. Don’t be tempted to micromanage, even if you think things aren’t meeting your standards. Micromanaging will only worsen the situation.
Instead of micromanaging those to whom you have delegated duties, rely on regular review reports. If things aren’t meeting your standards, ask questions and get answers from those responsible. Make suggestions to iron out the kinks that are causing problems, and underscore when the goals the team is responsible need to be met.
Avoid the quick fix
Whenever a problem arises, don’t look for the first fix that comes up. Don’t even go with the second fix that comes to mind. Sit down with those to whom you’ve delegated duties, and ask them for detailed information on what’s not working or what’s gone wrong. If the solution to the problem isn’t clear, bring experts in and consider their input. Then address the problem by doing what’s best to resolve it. You’ll be glad you invested the extra time getting to the root of the problem, and dealing it with it right away.
Have you ever sat down with a teenager who’s all about the technogeek community, and had a serious talk with him or her about today’s latest gadgets? Most of them will be able to tell you all sorts of interesting things about Silicon Valley’s latest advancements, assuming that you understand all the jargon that’s familiar to their generation. Now remember the odd look they give you when you don’t keep up with them.
It’s the same situation with employees, co-workers, and colleagues. You may understand what you’re saying, but do they understand what you’re saying? Make sure that when you communicate with others that they understand what you’re saying. Don’t assume that because you’re all involved with the same project, that they understand what you do about it. Communication is key.
Treat every situation as a learning situation
It doesn’t matter if you’re treated as an expert in a field or a detail-oriented genius or any other great label that may have been hung on you over the years. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. What makes a person a good leader as well as a good employee is the person who learns from his or her mistakes. This doesn’t mean, when all else fails, that you shouldn’t take risks and it doesn’t mean you should never go with your best guess. It means that if the risks you take or your best guess falls far short of the mark, get back up, dust yourself off, fix the mistake, and move forward.
Understand and accept change when warranted
On one side of the bad decisions wheel is the concept of changing for the sake of changing. On the other side of the bad decisions wheel is the concept of resisting change at all costs. Neither is a good way to run a business. The best option is to understand what changes are in the future, and assess how those changes will affect your business — negatively and positively. If you plan to blend those changes into your business model, anticipate how those changes will influence how you do business. If you plan to sidestep those changes, anticipate how that will influence how you do business as well. In the long run, it’s best to have plans in place with regards to change, instead of reacting to the after effects of change when it happens.
Interact with employees, colleagues, and contractors
This isn’t about being everyone’s buddy. It’s about being a compassionate human being. When an employee, colleague, or contractor sincerely needs to speak with you — regardless of whether it’s a professional or a personal matter — take the time to find out what’s going on. If whatever is on their mind impacts on productivity, you need to be aware of this so you can deal with the “change” that such things can bring into the workplace.
Include the enjoyment factor
I’m not advocating that goofing off at work is the way to run a business. On the contrary, I believe that being serious at work is far more important. However, everyone likes to have small indulgences to look forward to. In fact, studies show that people spend almost a third of their lives at work. Give employees and contractors a reason to look forward to working with you. Make the work environment pleasant as well as efficient. Smile a lot. You’d be surprised how many entrepreneurs, supervisors, and bosses forget to smile even when they’re feeling good about themselves and life. A smile brightens up any room.
Acknowledge innovation and effort
It really doesn’t take much out of your workday to let employees know that their creative ideas, dedication to completing the project, or nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic are appreciated and encouraged in the workplace. In fact, letting employees know they’re appreciated usually results in good morale, increased performance, and company loyalty. And what’s more, it makes you feel good to know that your business is working like a busy hive, and free from negativity.
As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you can’t be all things to all people all the time. You have to trust that others are competent and willing to do the best job they are capable of doing when you ask them to undertake responsibilities on behalf of your business. It’s a given that there will be some times when you’ll be disappointed with the end results. But it’s also a given that you will be pleased far more often than you’ll be disappointed. And if you learn from the disappointments and the successes, you’ll find that you’ll become better able to avoid future disappointments and cultivate many more successes in the future.