There are endless discussions today about great leadership skills and how organizations are investing resources into developing future leaders in their own companies.
In my almost three decades of working in corporate America and running my own companies, I have found four integral steps on the path to becoming a great leader:
1. Have a vision.
You may not be able to see the finish line, but you must have confidence in the plan you put together and the team you’ve assembled that both will help you achieve your objectives. As Jonathan Swift once said “Vision is the art of seeing the invisible.”
Your plan should be a specific and measurable goal (e.g. $10 million in revenue for the year). Your vision should help you see how to get from where you are today (e.g. $7 million in revenue) to your ultimate goal. Vision requires looking 5-7 steps ahead to see potential detours and pitfalls, and then creating a contingency plan. The best leaders use their vision and plans to get buy-in from team members who will ultimately execute their plan.
2. Mimic great leaders.
Who are the leaders you respect the most? What are the character traits you admire in them? Take time to write down your list of top leaders and their best qualities; work to instill those qualities in your own leadership position. Your list may include words such as character, integrity, honesty, vision, ethics, determination, persistence and credibility. As you can imagine, it’s hard to be all of these things as a leader, so focus on the 2-4 keywords that best represent your brand of leadership.
3. Listen to your team.
The worst kind of leader is someone who thinks they know it all and tries to demand respect from their employees. In fact, that’s not a leader; that’s a boss. A boss is someone who isn’t interested in developing employees into leaders. They aren’t concerned about fostering company culture or keeping employees happy. They simply want their employees to produce favorable results so they can meet their bottom line.
As a leader, you want all the things that a boss deems “insignificant.” Company culture is integral to your team’s success. You want to create a succession plan so that team members interested in growing within the company have options. You don’t want to invest your time, energy and resources into building a team just to have the star employees leave after a few years. Listen to what they have to say, and make them feel like their contributions mean something.
4. Be open to change.
Don’t be so married to your original plan that you allow it to take you off course and ultimately miss your goal. I’ve seen it happen too many times. Misguided leaders think that they can plow through obstacles and detours on their way to success. In many cases, teams break down or resources are lost which prevents you from attaining your objectives.
For example, suppose that midway through the year, you lose a key account to the competition. Some leaders may put all their eggs in the basket that attempts to win the account back. Their pride is hurt, and they want to prove to everyone within the company and at the client that it was a mistake to leave them. The leader may be better off using the time and resources to solidify relationships with existing clients to make sure they aren’t planning to leave. They can also target new or potential clients to make up for the lost revenue.
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan summed up leadership in a single pithy statement: “Surround yourself with great people; delegate authority; get out of the way.” Brilliant!
Want more leadership tips that get results? See Three Keys To Winning In A World Of Disruption.