Lesson 2: What is a Leader?

From the one-person startup to the intern to the CEO of a multinational organisation, leadership skills are crucial for success. Regardless of whether you are trying to get scale your business or managing a growing team, leadership is the fuel that will get you to your destination.

In startups or smaller companies, leadership may be even more critical than in a large organisation, where mediocre leaders could hide behind positional authority, a bureaucratic infrastructure, or someone else’s vision without developing or exhibiting personal leadership. Regardless of your situation, if a business or team is to be successful, there is no room for bosses, only leaders.

But what does being a leader really entail? For your business to succeed, you need to hire staff. Their skills, experience, and personal qualities should complement your strengths and weaknesses. When you understand yourself better, you will hire better.

Think of being a leader like going to the gym. If you go to the gym every day for a week, you will not see any immediate results. You have to care enough to keep at it over time. Similarly, in your business, the daily routines of connecting with your team, getting to know each of them, and caring about what is happening in their world has to matter to you. The small chore of asking each of them how they are doing every day for months on end builds up – just like in the gym, it takes months to see the results of your hard work and persistence.

Only after time will your interest in their world begin to translate into building a culture in your business, and you will start to see results. Your employees will care about the business, work hard, and not want to leave you for something better because you have invested time and energy into building these relationships and forming trust. It is a slow and steady process, but the result of your patience is increased confidence from your staff and added value to your business.

Are you a leader or a manager?

You set your company’s vision and objectives in Module 1. You are accountable for where the business will go and whether it will be able to function without you one day. You are the one who sets the direction of your business, so make sure you set that direction with your end goal in mind. Inspiring your employees to work towards that vision is leadership – but what’s the real difference between being a boss (or a manager) and being a leader?

A boss manages their employees, but a leader inspires their staff to innovate, think creatively, and strive for greatness. All teams will have a boss, and they might lead the team to success – but a team needs a leader to help them be significant. True leaders create mutual trust and respect as the foundation upon which all of their relationships are built.

A leader that cultivates that environment of trust, respect, and openness to opinions is more likely to have a team that comes up with a greater number of more innovative ideas than a leader that demoralises the team and negates their involvement.

Building trust takes time and conscious effort because people don’t trust words – they trust actions. That’s why values-based communication and action are so critical to businesses today. We’ll discuss this a little more shortly.

Leadership styles and qualities

Some people are naturally just great leaders. The rest of us need to work at it. The good news is that leadership is a skill, so developing and cultivating a positive leadership style is possible!

While leadership styles may vary and the emphasis may be different from one leader to another, five key personal qualities are often present in significant leaders:

1. Hard work

2. Effective communication

3. Relationship-building

4. Passion

5. Positivity.

Let’s explore these.

1. Work Hard

Leaders take action and lead by example. You need to:

  • Work hard
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Find solutions to complex problems
  • Follow through on completion of tasks
  • Always be on the lookout for new opportunities
  • Try new things and take calculated risks
  • Be open to feedback
  • Constantly search for ways to improve processes and performance for yourself and your team.

Always keep your word and bring positive energy and fresh ideas to the office every day to show your commitment to your team. If you want a team of hard workers, lead by example: be there working alongside them when you’ve got a deadline looming. They will not only respect you for it, but your actions will influence the way your team sees you. To that end, keeping the promises you make is vital if your employees are to trust and respect you. If you promised an early finish on Friday, stick to it. Building strong relationships based on trust is a sure way to make sure your employees stay with you.

As a leader building an effective team to support and grow your business, you don’t need to be an exceptional talent. You need a good work ethic, a positive attitude, and loads of energy and passion. All that said, don’t overextend yourself or micro-manage! Make sure you do what only you can do, and delegate the rest of the workload.

2. Communicate Effectively

To lead people you must be able to receive and send clear messages, both verbally and in writing. Leaders are good listeners and value input from the team. They recognise good ideas and see how these ideas fit in the bigger picture. Leaders can communicate their vision and goals in an inspiring way and are the “keepers of the shared vision”.

Clear, attainable goals keep everyone invested. Your business won’t go from zero to hero overnight. It takes time to build something worthwhile, and when you start from scratch, you’ll need to inspire your team with your dream so they know where you’re going and want to come along for the ride. Share your goals with them; give them a piece of the vision. If they’re invested, they’re much more likely to work hard for you, because it will feel less like they’re working for you, and more like they’re working with you.

Be authentic, create a connection and always speak directly. Directness is important for making sure your team knows what to do to work towards your shared goal – especially when hiring and training new employees. Be open to discussing all aspects of your business and give a full induction program – including any interoffice issues. All employees need to understand their roles and responsibilities.

Allow your new candidates time to understand your office, and encourage them to spend time in each department to get the full picture of how your business runs. If you have an open-door policy, your employees will trust and depend on you and be more willing to work hard to reach goals.

You would think that the more pleasant the office environment, the happier your employees, and the happier your employees are, the more productive they will be. However, research has proven that actually the opposite is true: The more productive people are, the happier and more satisfied and engaged they are.

While the concept of dividing people according to generations (Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, etc.) is somewhat debated, age does seem to have an effect on the communication styles preferred by employees. For example, Oxford Economics conducted a study that found that Millennials want a lot of frequent, informal feedback on their performance.

Make sure that you consider the variety of internal communication tools like live chat, project management platforms, and collaboration technology on top of more traditional formats like email and phone calls.

3. Build Relationships

Being a leader is a social activity. We’ve already covered how you need to work constantly to build relationships – not just in your team, but also in your broader networks. Being open and honest, admitting when you don’t know or have made a mistake, and not playing favourites will help to build relationships and increase levels of trust and overall employee engagement.

You also need to foster decision-making in your team. By teaching them to make solid business choices, big or small, you are empowering your employees and training them to be more self-sufficient.

Defining your business vision can take a long time, and because starting your own business is tough, entrepreneurs sometimes struggle to trust their team with that vision. While it can be difficult to relinquish a certain amount of control, you will not succeed if you cannot delegate. Trust your team. If you find yourself in control mode, imagine that you are in a small boat paddling upstream. It’s hard. It’s a fight. That’s what control mode feels like. Instead, choose to let go. Visualize the boat turning around, dropping the oars, and floating gently downstream.

“Letting go of the oars” is usually enough to move from control mode to trusting your team and allowing them to share the responsibility of driving your business forward. If you try to do everything yourself, you will spread yourself too thin and the quality of the work you produce will take a dive.

So how do you delegate well? Get to know what each of your team members is good at and what they enjoy. If you assign work this way, your employees will not only produce their best work, they will see that you trust them and feel like they play an important role in building the business. This will also free you up to grow the business by focusing on the bigger picture.

4. Show Passion

If you show passion for what you do and where your business is going, others will be inspired as well. Demonstrating your passion, commitment and dedication are all clear signals to others that you believe in what you are doing and that it is worth their time and effort. Employees who see you living your passion are also more likely to follow your example and put in extra effort.

Business will always have ups and downs. The key is to stay positive and calm throughout the downs, and help your team stay focused on the bigger picture. If morale stays strong, it’s easier to keep moving and climb the hills when the going gets tough. As a leader, this starts with you. Don’t allow fear to hold you back; instead of asking, “What if I can’t do this?”, rather ask, “What if I don’t do this?”

We are inclined to have limiting beliefs about ourselves, but they are just that – beliefs, not facts. Things won’t always go according to plan. When you hit a roadblock, you’ll have to deviate from your carefully thought-out plan, which will mean making difficult decisions, quickly. As a leader, choosing the best of a bunch of bad options sometimes means asking your team for input – the most original ideas sometimes come from unlikely places (or people).

5. Be Positive

Coping with stress is part and parcel of being an entrepreneur.  Sometimes you have to deal with tasks that you don’t enjoy and ridiculous deadlines and demands from customers. Be kind to yourself and try to maintain a positive mindset. When faced with a dispute, take a second to think it through; try to respond rather than react. Learn from your mistakes and celebrate your wins.

It’s a given that you will be challenged with tough and difficult decisions. When this happens, it’s a good idea to sleep on these big issues and take the time to think things through until the next morning; your decision could be different the following day.

Attitude also plays an important part in leadership. If you are optimistic about the future and believe in the ability of your people, you can encourage others to work hard and complete tasks that may otherwise have been viewed as too challenging. A positive attitude also keeps group morale up, as does a sense of humour.

Above all, make sure you allow your values to inform everything you do – and everything your staff does.

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