It would be difficult, if not impossible, to count the number of books and articles written over the years on the subject of leadership. What’s not so hard is figuring out what they all have in common.
You can do all the reading you like on the subject, but at the end of the day, what you’ll likely be left with is a small handful of leadership fundamentals. I’d like to discuss five of these fundamentals today, and how you can turn yourself into a more valuable and effective leader by making just a few changes.
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Re-Assess
There’s always room for improvement. Lots of people say this, but few really know how to practice it. We’ve all read, somewhere or other, a variation of a common axiom: “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
Leaders are constantly making observations and taking notes to find out what’s working and what’s not. But this is a pretty empty gesture if it’s not also accompanied by a willingness to re-assess what you previously thought was true.
Re-assessing also includes knowing when to admit you were wrong. If there’s one thing every leader has in common, it’s imperfection. Nobody is infallible, and everybody makes mistakes. There’s nothing cowardly or weak about knowing when to reverse course.
2. Stay Positive
It never ceases to amaze me how much of a difference positivity can make in the modern workplace. I’m sure we’ve all had experiences working in an environment with low morale or generally lousy attitudes, and it really takes its toll after a while. Staying positive is the key to building a place where people don’t mind working, and even look forward to spending their time.
This doesn’t just happen, though; company leadership needs to go out of its way to set an example. And I’m not just talking about showing up in the morning with a forced smile. Positivity manifests in many ways, not all of which are obvious. Positivity shows in body language and it shows in the feedback we give to our peers. Simply put, positivity and other emotions are infectious on an unconscious level.
3. Freely Share Your Ideas
Ownership is something human beings tend to value quite a bit — especially here in the United States, where rugged competition and “trade secrets” hold sway instead of cooperation. But on a smaller scale, lots of people in the workplace have a tendency to hold on tight to their ideas because they feel they might have a competitive advantage over their coworkers if they do so. This presents a number of pitfalls for businesses when it happens, and it can compromise an otherwise gifted leader.The truth is, everybody benefits when employees share insights, knowledge, and intuition with each other. The exchange of ideas is a beautiful cycle, where the more people share, the more likely people are to share. And being a great leader isn’t just about knowing when to share your expertise, but also knowing when to yield the floor to someone else.
4. Exhibit Trust And Transparency
Transparency is one of the unsung heroes in the business world, even in the year 2016, when information technology has all but robbed us of excuses.
Transparency is about fostering an atmosphere of trust. Once again, I’m willing to bet that most of us have employment experience with a company that didn’t share this value. Maybe the leadership team kept you in the dark about the company’s goals, or performance or wasn’t really invested in making sure different parts of the company worked well together.
Trust and transparency are both vitally important because people instinctively want to know that what they’re doing is making a difference — that their work is important. A lack of transparency keeps team members inside individual bubbles, without the vital context that makes their work meaningful on a personal level.
When transparency is valued in a workplace, trust naturally follows. Transparent leaders, almost automatically, are thought of as more trustworthy because they’re more willing to be open with the people in their charge and with the employees they advocate for.
5. Make Yourself A Resource
Leaders are resources — plain and simple. But I’d like to argue that they’re more than just a knowledge resource — they’re emotional resources, as well.
The first half is obvious: If a leader hasn’t made himself or herself available for mentorship (either formally or informally), then the team members in their charge have a pretty big blind spot when it comes to navigating learning curves. They need to feel there’s someone nearby who they can come to with questions or concerns about the nature of their work with the company.
Becoming an emotional resource might sound a bit trickier, but it goes hand-in-hand with our discussion above about remaining positive. If you’re an emotional resource, it means you can be relied on for feedback that’s both fair and supportive.
Leaders have to contend all the time with employees who learn a bit slower, or who may be more prone to discouragement, and knowing how to react to that will either make or break your role as an emotional resource. Knowing they’re being led by someone who possesses emotional maturity also goes a long way toward making newer employees feel more at home.
Leadership Is A Skill
If one thing seems clear from any conversation about leadership, it’s that great leaders are great because they’ve invested in honing this skill.
Leadership is an easy thing to take for granted — it’s pretty simple to believe that being “in charge” makes us a leader. It’s much harder to take an honest look at our shortcomings, take an emotional inventory and be honest about what needs improvement. But it’s well worth the effort.