What does it mean to be a great leader at work? Someone who people admire and respect, so they willingly do a great job and thrive in their own careers?
According to some of the world's most successful business men and women, great leadership is about inspiring confidence, and having the capacity to transform vision into reality. It's about recognising people's potential and encouraging them to develop their own skills. It's about being a reassuring guiding light, no matter what challenges are thrown at you.
If you've suddenly found yourself in a leadership position (you might be a freelancer hiring your first member of staff, or your boss may have promoted you), and you're daunted by the prospect of managing others, there are plenty of things you can do to become a great leader. The following 10 tips will help you lead others successfully.
1. Lead by example
Your team will become a reflection of yourself – so how do you want them to be? Look at your own stance on life, and decide what type of values you want to encourage in your business.
If you want to be honest, open and ethical (why wouldn't you?) – then you have to consistently behave in this manner, and lead by example. You can't impose rules and expectations on others unless you follow them too. If you don't, people might grow to resent you.
2. Listen more than you speak
If you're not prepared to listen to others, and seriously consider their own ideas, then what is the point of leading them? This isn't a dictatorship. This is about being part of a team, sharing a common goal. Listen, even if you don't agree. Listen more than you speak.
By listening, you will boost people's confidence, inspire them to improve and make them feel as though they're the most valued and respected member of your team. There should be more listeners in the world. We all want to be heard – it means we feel important, and at work... that's how you want your team to feel.
3. Ditch the ego
You are not special. You don't know everything. You will always make mistakes. You aren't always right. There. I've said it. Once you've picked your bruised ego off the floor, let me say this – over-confidence is quite possibly the most debilitating (and unattractive) character trait. And it won't do you any favours in leadership.
Be humble and understand that you don't have all the answers. Neither does anyone else. So be open to being flexible, with yourself and others – perhaps changing your stance on things for the greater good of the business.
4. Be compassionate and accepting
Be impeccable with your word. That means you should refrain from expressing criticisms, judgments, or find fault with yourself, or anyone else. In other words, be compassionate and accepting of others. Give people – and yourself – a break, and remember that perfection doesn't exist.
By taking a more compassionate stance, people will see you as approachable, supportive and caring. You're going to become the kind of leader that people will want to work hard for – not out of fear, but from respect.
5. Communicate clearly and concisely
There is nothing more disconcerting than not knowing what your boss wants from you. In which case, make your expectations clear, and express them as effectively as possible, using the best tools available to you (task management software such as Teamwork and instant messaging apps like Slack can transform internal communications).
What's more, communicate regularly to determine that your team understands what's expected of them. This might take the form of weekly meetings to go through tasks as a team, or one-to-ones to see how people are doing, and whether they need any extra support.
"There is nothing more infectious than someone with passion. Couple that drive and energy with positivity and you have the kind of leader that can motivate an entire army."
6. Steer the ship with confidence
You know when you're anxiously on an aeroplane, which is bumpily landing or taking off, and you're looking to the cabin crew for reassurance? Well, you want them to look calm and confident, don't you! To feel that everything is going to be alright – even if it's not. (A friend of mine worked for 20 years as a flight attendant and told me that they're trained to look calm, even if they know something might be wrong.)
The same applies in business. Your team will constantly be looking at you for peace of mind. After all, you're responsible for their wages and their future. If the going gets tough, you can't panic. You have to stay calm and carry on. It's about maintaining the team morale, keeping confidence levels up and focusing on doing great work.
Like cabin crew, you have to understand people will take cues from you, so exude a feeling of quiet and calm confidence to steer your ship out of those stormy waters. Consider the wise words of General Montgomery: "My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence."
7. Treat people as individuals
We're all different, and so have varying wants and needs. When you're faced with a team of people, you have to appreciate that they'll all have different perspectives on life, come from different backgrounds and carry various personality traits. What might work well for one person, might be a disaster for someone else.
As leader, it's your job to treat everyone on an individual basis, recognising their strengths and weaknesses and where they might need extra guidance. By having the emotional intelligence to understand how to motivate and support each member of your team, you'll truly get the best out of them.
8. Be positive and passionate
There is nothing more infectious than someone with passion. Couple that drive and energy with positivity and you have the kind of leader that can motivate an entire army.
Take inspiration from Chris Traeger of Parks and Recreation. Ok, he's a tad over-the-top, and probably not the best example of a great leader – but something Rob Lowe's character does very well is spread warmth and happiness around his department, inspiring others to work hard and be the best they can be.
As leader, it's your job to keep the office mood upbeat, positive and full of energy. You have to strike a fine balance between productivity and play – the odd beer on a Friday afternoon, naughty treats and snacks throughout the week, and even the offer of personal advice, if requested, will keep spirits high and make people feel like they're part of a caring, fun community.
9. Trust your instincts
There's no getting around it. You will solely have to make difficult decisions on a regular basis, particularly when the going gets tough. And you won't get any help because your team will be relying on you to steer them through those choppy waters.
This is where you have to reply on your intuition, tuning into your gut feelings to determine next steps. Experience is often the only way you'll learn to better trust your instincts, drawing on past moments. But if you're stuck and unsure, turn to friends and family for support – you'll be surprised how much they might be able to help push you in the right direction.
10. Don't take all the glory
Great leaders leave their egos at the office door. "A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves." That's the essential wisdom courtesy of Lao Tzu.
It teaches us that strong leaders aren't bothered about taking the credit for success. They instead ensure their team enjoys all the glory, knowing secretly, and humbly, that they helped towards achieving that goal.