The central tenet of meritocracy is that the best are rewarded and the very best rise to the top. But being the boss of a team or company isn’t just about being the most successful person. To succeed as a modern business leader you need a set of skills as varied as it is long.
Get it right, and you can expect to reap the benefits which flow from a happy and productive workforce. Get it wrong, and you may not be in charge for long.
A whole industry has developed to pass on the whys and wherefores which go to make great leaders. No-one could question the validity of studying to improve your leadership skills, but while you’re thinking about that Masters degree, here are a few suggestions you might want to put into practice.
Been there, done that
Experience is everything. If your team know you’ve been in their shoes and encountered the issues they are facing, your credibility is assured. They will also respect your decisions (even if they don’t always agree with them).
Be honest with yourself and others
Respected leaders need emotional intelligence and an awareness of how their actions impact on everyone in their team or organisation. You need to know yourself and how to control your emotions. Business is no place for rash judgements. You should also be able to appraise your team or company’s status with honesty – looking for the flaws and errors along with the good points.
Believe in the team
The people who work for you are your most important asset. Without them, you’re nothing, so treat them accordingly. You need to start from the viewpoint that they are doing their best for you. If you need to give negative feedback, turn it around by helping your team members to see how they can change things to make them work.
Everyone makes mistakes. The best leaders know how to admit and learn from them. If things go wrong, the last thing you want to do is spray the blame around your team. That’s a recipe for divisiveness and loss of respect. Focus, instead, on how to fix things and make it an inclusive effort. It’s an ideal way of turning a negative into a positive.
When something does go wrong you need to have a Plan B or – more importantly – be aware that you need to come up with a Plan B. Get used to thinking around a subject, looking at it from different angles and providing less obvious solutions. The same goes for work practises and systems. If they’re not working, be prepared to change them.
Lead, don’t dictate
History is littered with tales of dictators, and more often than not, they came to a sticky end. You need to lead by example – working harder than anyone else and showing a willingness to put in extra time on a project. Get that right and you can expect productivity to hit an upward curve.
Don’t show favouritism
The idea of surrounding yourself with ‘yes men’ might appeal if your insecurities are off the scale, but it won’t do your company any good. You need people who are prepared to challenge your ideas: contrary to what your ego might tell you, it’s statistically impossible to be right all the time. Equally damaging is the practice of favouring one or two workers over others. Resentment and disillusionment are not emotions you want to welcome into the workplace.
Give credit where it’s due
As the boss, it’s your job to make hard decisions and dish out the painful truths when necessary. It’s also your job to praise good work – and to make sure the news gets around. A good leader has the confidence not to take all the credit. It’s another way to gain the respect of your staff, and will stand you in good stead when you have to implement unpopular decisions.
Lots of them. Of yourself, of your team, of your clients, about your work practices, about new markets, about the state and future of your industry or sector. Keep an open, enquiring mind and encourage your team to do the same.
Be prepared to take risks
Without risk in business, there’s no growth. The possibility exists that things won’t work out the way you planned but it’s important to develop a mindset combining boldness and objective assessment. Encourage your team to take risks, too, but be sure to stand behind them if the anticipated doesn’t happen.
Know when to step back
Micromanaging is bad for you and your team. If you’re trying to get across everything, you’re not across anything properly. Focus on what you’re good at and delegate anything you don’t need to be working on directly. When your team see you micromanage, they will be discouraged from using initiative. They might also feel they’re not trusted. You need to realise that a demotivated workforce will not get you anywhere.