A great leader can turn an idea into a reality, a dream into an aspiration, and a motivation into a movement. Yet the leader is only half of the picture, as it is their followers that give their words and actions weight.
Today’s leaders face new challenges and obstacles to their role; some may never even meet their teams face-to-face. Yet at the heart of great leadership can be found a number of core values that are just as relevant today as they have always been.
So whether you are heading up a digital team, taking the helm of a brand new enterprise, or even imparting these skills to others, remember that leadership itself is just one side of the coin.
Remember Your Roots
“It is necessary to follow, in order to lead.” – William Hazlitt
Your role as a leader not only requires you to have a clear picture of where your business is going, and how to get it there, but also of the skills and people required to make this possible. Know the strengths and weaknesses of each member of your team, including yourself, and be prepared to defer to those you are leading in areas where their expertise exceeds your own.
Effective leadership stems from an ability to identify the best way to achieve your aspirations as a result of the combined efforts of your team as a whole. This in turn can often mean that you need to hand the reins over to someone else for a time.
Furthermore, as a leader, it is important not to forget what it means to be a follower. The same qualities that you value in your employees, such remaining honest, accountable, and respectful, are just as valuable in a leader. So hold yourself to a standard that is at least as high as your expectations for your followers, if not higher.
“Leaders who offer blood, toil, tears and sweat always get more out of their followers” – George Orwell
There’s no better way to learn about a job than to try your hand at it yourself. It’s all very well knowing what each member of your team’s role is, but quite another to understand those roles. By engaging directly with the roles and responsibilities of each team member, you can learn experientially, and build a far more accurate picture of what is expected of each individual.
Certain specialist tasks may be less viable for you to involve yourself in. However, by showing willingness to learn from your staff, and to carry out the jobs you require them to do, you inspire trust, confidence, and familiarity. Meanwhile, you will gain invaluable insights into the inner workings of your business, and how that impacts the lives and wellbeing of your employees.
“A leader should be slow to punish, and swift to reward.” – Ovid
One of the greatest challenges of leadership is handling mishaps. Not only do you need to steer things back onto the right track, but you also need to identify how and why they ran adrift. The temptation may be to single out those most directly responsible, and penalise them. However, many setbacks have no identifiable instigator, and it is often unfair to blame your team when things go wrong. After all, you are supposed to be guiding them.
Keep in mind that many mistakes are the result of poor communication. So rather than decide who is to blame, instead consider why the mistake occurred, and how processes can be improved to prevent a future mishap. Consult with your team to discuss what could have been done differently, and always remember that if you want your staff to be accountable, you must be so yourself.
Of course, this is not to say that everything can be solved in this manner. There may be times when your only recourse is to directly reprimand an individual. But this should always be preceded by an attempt to resolve the matter more positively.
Listen and Learn
“To lead people, walk beside them” – Laozi
Your team will look to you for guidance, and it is your responsibility to plan their course, and ensure that everyone’s talents are used to their greatest potential. Yet while you have a detailed business plan and a clear picture of your long- and short-term aspirations, it can be tough to balance that with the needs and abilities of your team.
However, by working closely with each team member, you can not only determine how they can best use their skills within their given role, but also how they might develop those skills for future endeavours. Offering the opportunity for career development not only creates a higher EVP, but also increases the range of talent within your team.
Communication strengthens your whole team, and provides you with valuable feedback that will enable you to work more efficiently together, and make better leadership decisions in the future.
Furthermore, regular consultations with your team mean that obstacles can quickly be identified, often before they even arise. For example, there may be potential stumbling blocks that you have overlooked, but that are immediately apparent to a team member specialising in that field.
Ultimately, the lynchpin of a successful team isn’t its leader, or any individual follower, but their ability to work together. After all, there would be no need for a leader at all without a team for them to guide and oversee.
So whether you are leading, or training others to lead, always be mindful that it is just one role in a more complex endeavour, within which each of you has a critical part to play. Strong leadership inspires each of those parts to fall into its appropriate place, enabling you to accomplish great things, both as individuals, and as a business.
Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she shares tips on how fellow entrepreneurs can get their brand off the ground. She is passionate about using her experience to help new business owners succeed.